As­sad re­jects cease-fire pro­posal for Aleppo

Rebels pushed from en­claves in key city

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY SARAH EL DEEB AND PHILIP ISSA

BEIRUT | Syria’s govern­ment ig­nored a rebel cease-fire pro­posal for Aleppo on Wed­nes­day as its ad­vanc­ing forces cap­tured new neigh­bor­hoods around the city cen­ter and squeezed some 200,000 tired and fright­ened civil­ians into a shat­tered and rapidly shrink­ing op­po­si­tion en­clave.

Fac­ing a pun­ish­ing and bru­tal de­feat, rebel fac­tions, some backed by the United States, pro­posed a five-day cease-fire for the east­ern parts of the city to evac­u­ate the wounded and civil­ians wish­ing to flee.

“The ar­tillery shelling is non-stop,” one res­i­dent said, re­fus­ing to give his name out of fear for his safety. “The hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion is re­ally tough. There are corpses on the streets . ... There is very lit­tle food.”

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 five largest cities in Syria and the coastal re­gion back un­der Da­m­as­cus’ con­trol.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials had not di­rectly ad­dressed the rebel pro­posal by the evening.

“The de­ci­sion to lib­er­ate all of Syria has been taken, and that in­cludes Aleppo,” Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad told the state news­pa­per al-Watan.

Brig. Gen. Zeid al-Saleh told state TV that rebels must leave Aleppo or face death.

The Syr­ian govern­ment and its ally Rus­sia have re­jected pre­vi­ous cease-fires for the war-torn city, keep­ing up the mil­i­tary of­fen­sive that has forced rebel re­treats and dis­placed at least 30,000 civil­ians in the past 11 days, ac­cord­ing to U.N. fig­ures. Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov met Wed­nes­day in Ham­burg, Ger­many but did not re­lease any state­ments.

The rebels made no of­fer to pull out of Aleppo, though their pro­posal promised to ne­go­ti­ate the fate of the city when the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis eases. A rebel spokesman said al Qaeda-linked group Fatah al-Sham Front, which has a lim­ited pres­ence among the fight­ers, will abide by the pro­posal.

Govern­ment forces and re­gional mili­tias fight­ing along­side them, mean­while, cap­tured new ground in Aleppo’s old city and its Bab al-Nairab district, home to one of the city’s main wa­ter sta­tions, ac­cord­ing to mon­i­tor­ing groups and state me­dia, a pos­si­ble ma­jor break in the bloody, stale­mated six-year war.

The rebels con­tin­ued their shelling of the western govern­ment-held dis­tricts of the city. Syria’s state news agency re­ported that 12 peo­ple were killed by mor­tar and rocket fire land­ing in western Aleppo.

Syr­ian mil­i­tary me­dia said the govern­ment had cap­tured three-quar­ters of the op­po­si­tion’s for­mer en­clave Tues­day. The U.N. es­ti­mated 275,000 peo­ple were still re­sid­ing there be­fore the start of the ground of­fen­sive.

The govern­ment is sup­ported by Le­banon’s mil­i­tant group Hezbol­lah, Iraqi and Ira­nian mili­tias, and Iran’s elite Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards. Hezbol­lah’s Al-Ma­nar TV broad­cast from Aleppo’s iconic citadel in the late af­ter­noon.

The Syr­ian govern­ment has been de­mand­ing the com­plete evac­u­a­tion of all rebels from east­ern Aleppo, but lo­cals in­volved in the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the rebel fac­tions said this has not been se­ri­ously con­sid­ered.

“There’s no point to the civil­ians stay­ing with­out the pro­tec­tion of the Free Syr­ian Army,” said Hamza al-Khatib, the spokesman for the civil so­ci­ety ad hoc Com­mit­tee to Save Aleppo.

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