Syrian rebels in besieged eastern Aleppo call for ceasefire, evacuation of civilians

Syrian rebels in besieged eastern Aleppo called on Wednesday for an immediate five-day ceasefire and the evacuation of civilians and wounded.

Last Updated: Dec 08, 2016, 00:28 AM IST
Syrian rebels in besieged eastern Aleppo call for ceasefire, evacuation of civilians
Aleppo - File Pic

Beirut: Syrian rebels in besieged eastern Aleppo called on Wednesday for an immediate five-day ceasefire and the evacuation of civilians and wounded.

However, they gave no indication they were ready to withdraw as demanded by Damascus and Moscow.

The Syrian army and allied forces have made rapid gains against insurgents in the past two weeks and look closer than ever to restoring full control over Aleppo, Syria`s most populous city before the war, and achieving their most important victory of the conflict now in its sixth year.

In a statement calling for the truce, the rebels made no mention of evacuating the several thousand fighters who are defending an ever shrinking area of eastern Aleppo. 

Syria and Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have said they want rebels to leave Aleppo and will not consider a ceasefire unless that happens.

Retaking Aleppo would also be a success for President Vladimir Putin who intervened to save Moscow`s ally in September 2015 with air strikes, and for Shi`ite Iran, whose elite Islamic Republic Guard Corps has suffered casualties fighting for Assad.

The Syrian government now appears closer to victory than at any point in the five years since protests against Assad evolved into an armed rebellion. The war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people, made more than half of Syrians homeless and created the world`s worst refugee crisis.

Outside of Aleppo, the government and its allies are also putting severe pressure on remaining rebel redoubts. 

The Syrian army now controls all of the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site including the Umayyad Mosque, which had been held by rebels, the Observatory said. 

Rebels have lost control of about 75 percent of their territory in eastern Aleppo in under 10 days, Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, said.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that a potential US-Russia deal to allow Syrian rebels to leave Aleppo safely was still on the agenda. 

Damascus and Moscow have been calling on rebels to withdraw from the city, disarm and accept safe passage out, a procedure that has been carried out in other areas where rebels abandoned besieged territory in recent months. 

Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Monday calling for a week-long ceasefire. Moscow said rebels used such pauses in the past to reinforce.

While rebels say they could fend off the offensive for some time to come, the fighting is complicated by tens of thousands of fearful civilians trapped in the rebel-held area, many of them related to the fighters, the official said, as per Reuters.

A UN official said on Wednesday about 31,500 people from east Aleppo have been displaced around the entire city over the past week, with hundreds more seen on the move on Wednesday. 

With hospitals, clinics, water and food cut off, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said the situation was "heart-breaking." 

On the other hand, Assad said that recent Army advances in Aleppo will completely change the course of the battle in all of Syria, pro-Damascus television station al-Mayadeen reported.

Assad described Aleppo as the "last hope" of rebels and their backers, "after their failure in the battles of Damascus and Homs", the station said, citing an interview with al-Watan newspaper expected to be published on Thursday.

"The decision to liberate all of Syria is taken and Aleppo is part of it," Mayadeen quoted him as saying. 

Assad indicated that developments in the fighting over the past year led to "the results we see today", it said. 

(With Reuters inputs)