Syrian government says no Aleppo ceasefire without rebel exit

Syrian government says no Aleppo ceasefire without rebel exit
The Syrian government has said it would not allow a ceasefire in Aleppo without the full withdrawal of rebel groups fighting in the city.
4 min read
06 December, 2016
Regime forces have so far seized two-thirds of Aleppo's rebel-held east [AFP]
Syria's government on Tuesday said it would not agree to a ceasefire in Aleppo unless it guarantees a full withdrawal of rebel factions from the city. 

"Syria will not leave its citizens in east Aleppo to be held hostage by terrorists, and will exert every effort to liberate them," said a foreign ministry statement carried by state news agency SANA.

"It therefore rejects any attempt by any side to reach a ceasefire in east Aleppo that would not include the exit of all terrorists."

Rebels in east Aleppo have already dismissed talk by Russia - a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - of them withdrawing, with one group saying any proposals "for the exit of rebel groups would be unacceptable".

"It is for the Russians to leave Aleppo, and for the sectarian militias to leave Aleppo and Syria and stop interfering in the internal affairs of Syrians," Yasser al-Youssef of the Nour al-Deen al-Zinki told AFP.

However, the rebels remained willing to approve a UN plan for the entry of humanitarian aid into the east, which has been besieged by regime forces since mid-July.

On Monday, Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian and US experts were to meet in Switzerland on either Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss a proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerry last week on a complete rebel withdrawal from the war-torn eastern sector of Syria's second city.

But on Tuesday he acknowledged that Washington had said it would not take part in Wednesday's talks and had withdrawn the suggestions made by Kerry.

[Click to enlarge]

He accused Washington of backtracking on planned talks in Geneva over a rebel pullout from Syria's Aleppo to "buy time" for those battling Assad.

"It looks like an attempt to buy time for the rebels to have a breather, take a pause and replenish their reserves," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists, saying Moscow had the impression "a serious discussion with our American partners isn't working out".

He added that rebels risked being annihilated if they refused to pull out following any deal between Russia and the US.

"In any case, if someone refuses to pull out willingly, they will be destroyed."

Russia and the US are on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria with Moscow backing Assad with airpower and Washington pushing for the strongman to go.

Syrian army advances

Regime forces have so far seized two-thirds of Aleppo's rebel-held east since starting an operation to recapture the entire city in mid-November.

On Tuesday, pro-Assad forces were on the verge of seizing the large residential district of Shaar in eastern Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said if the district is retaken rebel forces will be reduced to a "war of attrition" with the army.

Syria will not leave its citizens in east Aleppo to be held hostage by terrorists, and will exert every effort to liberate them.
- Syrian foreign ministry

"It is the most important neighbourhood in the heart of east Aleppo, and is on the brink of falling," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that regime forces were already in control of about a third of the district.

With the capture of Shaar, the army would hold 70 percent of east Aleppo, four years after rebels first seized it and divided the city.

The regime's rapid gains have left opposition fighters scrambling to defend the shrinking enclave they still control in Aleppo's southeastern districts.

Losing Aleppo to regime troops would mark the biggest defeat for rebel forces in Syria's five-year civil war.

UN resolution

The assault, which has left more than 341 people dead in east Aleppo, has raised an international outcry, but Russia and China on Monday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a seven-day ceasefire in the city.

Russia said the resolution should have been postponed until after the Geneva talks, saying an agreement on organising a withdrawal was close.

The deputy US envoy to the United Nations, Michele Sison, suggested there was no deal, accusing Moscow of using a "made-up alibi" to block the resolution.

"We will not let Russia string along the Security Council," she said.

"We will continue bilateral negotiations (with Russia) to relieve the suffering in Aleppo, but we have not reached a breakthrough because Russia wants to keep its military gains."

Agencies contributed to this report