Syrian forces ‘clear booby-traps’ in Aleppo following evacuation

Putin says Kazakh capital of Astana to be venue for new Syrian peace negotiations

Syrian army experts are dismantling explosives and booby-traps left behind by rebels before they left the last neighbourhoods they held in the northern city of Aleppo, according to state TV.

A correspondent in Aleppo said mining experts entered the neighbourhoods of Ansari, Sukkari and Amiriyeh early on Friday, beginning their work in main streets to open them.

The Syrian government took full control of Aleppo on Thursday for the first time in four years after the last opposition fighters and civilians were transported out of war-ravaged eastern districts, sealing the end of the rebellion’s most important stronghold.

The evacuations ended a brutal chapter in Syria’s nearly six-year civil war, allowing president Bashar al-Assad to regain full authority over the country’s largest city and former commercial hub.


Meanwhile, with the evacuation of rebel fighters from Aleppo complete, creating the conditions for a ceasefire deal in Syria, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying on Friday. "In my view we are very close to achieving an agreement on a full ceasefire across the territory of Syria," Mr Shoigu said at a meeting with president Vladimir Putin, RIA reported.

Mr Putin said on Friday that Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had all agreed that the Kazakh capital of Astana should be the venue for new Syrian peace negotiations.

Russia, Iran and Turkey held talks in Moscow on Tuesday after which they said they were ready to help broker a Syrian peace deal. Putin proposed holding the negotiations in Kazakhstan, a close Russian ally.

Russian air strikes were instrumental in helping Mr Assad wipe out rebel resistance this month in the northern city of Aleppo, handing him his biggest victory in nearly six years of war and strengthening his negotiating hand.

Previous diplomatic attempts to end the conflict have repeatedly failed. Despite the government’s recapture of Aleppo, large parts of Syria are still controlled by insurgent and Islamist groups.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said he expected the talks in Astana to take place in mid-January. But TASS news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying: “I wouldn’t talk now about timing. Right now contacts are being made and preparation is under way for the meeting.”

He said Mr Putin would have a series of international telephone calls later on Friday to discuss the Astana talks. Speaking at his end-of-year news conference, Mr Putin said the next step for Syria would be a nationwide ceasefire.