Assad rejects cease-fire proposal for Aleppo
Rebels pushed from enclaves in key city
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.