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Aleppo siege: Syrian government suggests 'friendly' football match to rebels

Game, reportedly part of 'national reconciliation' efforts, comes as government announces amnesty for gunmen
Residents of northern Aleppo watch the opening match of the UEFA championships earlier this year (AFP)

The Syrian government has dropped leaflets on besieged areas of eastern Aleppo, inviting rebel fighters not to a battle, but to a “friendly” football match.

A call-out posted on pro-government social media pages on Wednesday invites the “dearest residents” of eastern Aleppo – which is controlled by rebels and besieged by government forces – to attend a football match in al-Hamdaniya Stadium on Thursday afternoon.

An advertising banner posted to pro-government social media pages on Wednesday (Facebook)

Translation: Dearest residents of eastern Aleppo, we invite you to participate in and attend a football match that will take place in the city’s sports stadium, in al-Hamdaniye, on Thursday 24/11/2016, beginning at precisely 12:00

A text message sent to residents of eastern Aleppo on Wednesday, and seen by Middle East Eye, specifically invites “gunmen” to bring their families to the stadium to play in and watch the match.  

The text message received by residents of eastern Aleppo, along with an English translation (MEE)

A separate message sent by the governorate of Aleppo said the “friendly football match” was a “goodwill initiative in the context of national reconciliation”.

Aleppo has a long history of love for football, and is home to one of the country’s oldest clubs, al-Hurriya, whose name translates as Freedom.

However, the 53,000-seat stadium, which lies in a flashpoint district on the borders between the rebel-held east and government territory in the west, appeared to remain empty on Thursday afternoon after the scheduled kick-off of the match.

Instead, fierce fighting continued on the ground in various areas of the city, with government forces continuing a bombardment of the eastern side while rebels continue missile attacks on western districts of the city.

Authorities in Aleppo had announced an “amnesty” on Wednesday, with the city’s attorney general, Fadil Najjar, promising to return rebels to the “embrace of the nation” if they turn themselves in.

In a statement posted to the governorate’s Facebook page, Najjar called on “all gunmen who have carried weapons in eastern Aleppo” to hand themselves in, pledging that they will not face charges as long as they free all hostages.