As Syr­ian troops gain ground, Aleppo rebels pro­pose truce Fate of the city be ne­go­ti­ated

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Star­ing a pun­ish­ing and bru­tal de­feat in the face, sev­eral Syr­ian rebel fac­tions yes­ter­day pro­posed a five-day cease-fire in the eastern part of the city of Aleppo so the wounded, sick and other civil­ians can be evac­u­ated. The pro­posal came as Syr­ian gov­ern­ment troops and al­lied mili­ti­a­men de­clared they have seized con­trol of three-quar­ters of the en­clave that the op­po­si­tion con­trolled since 2012.

The cease-fire pro­posal was signed by the Aleppo com­mand cen­ter, ap­par­ently a ref­er­ence to the col­lec­tion of fac­tions fight­ing in­side the eastern en­clave. A rebel spokesman said Al-Qaeda-linked group Fatah Al-Sham Front, which has a lim­ited pres­ence in the en­clave, will abide by the pro­posal. The of­fer made no men­tion of a rebel pull­out from Aleppo, though the pro­posal said the fate of the city is to be ne­go­ti­ated af­ter the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis eases.

The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and its ally Rus­sia had pre­vi­ously re­jected a cease-fire for the war-torn city, keep­ing up the mil­i­tary of­fen­sive that has forced rebel re­treats and mas­sive dis­place­ment of Aleppo civil­ians. Yes­ter­day, US Sec­re­tary State John Kerry and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov were meet­ing for talks on Syria in Ger­many.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, Syr­ian gov­ern­ment troops and al­lied mili­ti­a­men seized more ground in Aleppo’s an­cient quar­ters, fur­ther widen­ing their con­trol over an en­clave in the di­vided city, Syria’s state me­dia and an op­po­si­tion mon­i­tor­ing group said. With the lat­est gains, the endgame for Aleppo, which has been carved up be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the rebel side for the past four years, ap­pears to draw even closer. If Aleppo - the coun­try’s for­mer com­mer­cial hub - is cap­tured by gov­ern­ment troops, it would be a turn­ing point in the con­flict, putting the four largest cities in Syria and the coastal re­gion back un­der state con­trol.

Also yes­ter­day, the state SANA news agency said that Is­rael launched sev­eral sur­face-to-sur­face mis­siles that hit near a mil­i­tary air­port west of Da­m­as­cus, trig­ger­ing a fire. Is­rael had no im­me­di­ate com­ment. SANA said the mis­siles fell within the perime­ter of the Mezzeh mil­i­tary air­port, the main air base in the Da­m­as­cus area. It lies on the western edge of the cap­i­tal and had pre­vi­ously come un­der rebel fire. No in­juries were re­ported.

It was the sec­ond such Is­raeli strike into Syria re­cently, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, fol­low­ing two mis­siles fired from Le­banese airspace to­ward the out­skirts of Da­m­as­cus last week. But yes­ter­day’s at­tack is be­lieved to be the first from Is­rael into the vicin­ity of Da­m­as­cus in years. Is­rael is widely be­lieved to have car­ried out a num­ber of airstrikes in Syria in the past few years that have tar­geted ad­vanced weapons sys­tems, in­clud­ing Rus­sian-made anti-air­craft mis­siles and Ira­nian-made mis­siles.

The arms are be­lieved to be des­tined for the Le­banese Shi­ite Hezbol­lah mil­i­tant group, a close ally of the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and a fierce en­emy of Is­rael. Rebel de­fenses in eastern Aleppo have col­lapsed rapidly in the face of a mas­sive gov­ern­ment as­sault backed by Rus­sia and thou­sands of Ira­nian-backed Shi­ite fight­ers.

On Tues­day, Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces cap­tured Aleppo’s cen­trally lo­cated al-Shaar neigh­bor­hood, se­cur­ing about 45 square kilo­me­ters (17 square miles) of the be­sieged en­clave less than two weeks af­ter launch­ing their ground of­fen­sive. The of­fen­sive was pre­ceded by an in­ten­sive bomb­ing cam­paign that knocked out med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties and left the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion reel­ing from the vi­o­lence. Ac­cord­ing to the Ob­ser­va­tory, 369 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 45 chil­dren, were killed in eastern Aleppo since Nov. 15. The Ob­ser­va­tory said 92 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 34 chil­dren, were killed in the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled western Aleppo that came un­der rebel fire.

SANA said Syr­ian forces yes­ter­day es­tab­lished con­trol over two dis­tricts north of the Aleppo Citadel in the heart of the city - the Aghiour and Bab Al-Hadid neigh­bor­hoods af­ter rebels aban­doned po­si­tions and re­treated fur­ther south. The new gains have choked the rebels, forc­ing them to pull back to other parts of the Old City, said the Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights.

A map pro­vided by the Syria army showed a quickly shrink­ing op­po­si­tion en­clave - a pointed leaf­shaped ter­ri­tory in the cen­ter, abut­ting al­ready gov­ern­ment-con­trolled Aleppo dis­tricts. In a state­ment, the Ob­ser­va­tory said dozens of bod­ies lit­tered streets stretch­ing from alShaar to the south­ern part of eastern Aleppo, in­clud­ing the Old City, as a re­sult of on­go­ing in­tense gov­ern­ment bom­bard­ment.

Capt Ab­del-Salam Ab­del-Razek of the rebel Nour el-Din el-Zinki fac­tion - one of the largest op­er­at­ing in­side Aleppo - said the cease-fire pro­posal was driven by hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cerns be­cause of the ris­ing death toll and in­ten­sive de­struc­tion. He said cur­rently there was no talk of rebels leav­ing the city.

The pro­posal calls for the im­me­di­ate evac­u­a­tion of 500 se­ri­ously wounded and for al­low­ing civil­ians wish­ing to leave to head to north­ern ru­ral Aleppo, where there is al­most no gov­ern­ment pres­ence. It also calls for ne­go­ti­a­tions over the fu­ture of the city of Aleppo once the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis eases. Ab­del-Razek said this hu­man­i­tar­ian pause is to be mon­i­tored by the United Na­tions. Wis­sam Zarqa, an English teacher in eastern Aleppo and an out­spo­ken gov­ern­ment op­po­nent, said the rebel re­treat from large parts of Old Aleppo was “con­cern­ing.” “We are ex­hausted. There is a lot of death and un­prece­dented de­struc­tion,” he said. —AP

ALEPPO: Syr­ian res­i­dents flee­ing the vi­o­lence in the eastern rebel-held parts of Aleppo evac­u­ate from their neigh­bor­hoods through the Bab Al-Hadid district af­ter it was seized by the gov­ern­ment forces. —AFP

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