Syrian Troops Take Aleppo's Old City, Reject Rebels' Push for Truce

Conditions in the besieged city are becoming increasingly difficult due to illness, food shortages and a lack of medical facilities.

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Aleppo's historic citadel as seen from the government-held side Syria's second city on December 3, 2016.
Aleppo's historic citadel as seen from the government-held side Syria's second city on December 3, 2016.Credit: George Ourfalian, AFP

Syrian government forces and their allies advanced deeper into the shrinking rebel-held enclave in eastern Aleppo on Wednesday, seizing the Old City, while demanding the armed opposition groups leave the area.

The rebels are pushing for a five-day truce and the evacuation of injured people and civilians from eastern Aleppo, but the Syrian government has rejected this proposal.

The amount of territory the rebels control is contracting quickly, with 75 percent of the enclave now held by the government, as its troops move ahead amid heavy shelling and airstrikes.

"We will not accept any truce," Fares Shehabi, a member of parliament for Aleppo, told dpa by telephone. "If they do not leave we will continue our attack," he warned the armed groups.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said all rebels who choose to remain in the collapsing enclave will be deemed as linked to Al-Qaida's wing in Syria, a strong force in the country.

"The exit was offered to them and this issue was discussed earlier," Peskov said about the rebels, according to the Russian state news agency TASS. "Unfortunately, only few have exited," he added.

Despite little leverage on the ground, the rebels have asked for a pause in fighting while civilians move to areas in northern Aleppo province held by the opposition and Turkish troops.

This week, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution on a truce. France has accused Moscow of "systematic obstruction" of the UN's efforts, leading to civilian suffering.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said late Tuesday talks were ongoing but warned the militants "have to make their choices," saying no stronger deal had been worked out.

He was critical of the opposition for failing to agree to a cease-fire in the past, when they had the upper hand.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government now controls the Old City of Aleppo and the grand Umayyad Mosque, iconic areas in Aleppo, once Syria's key economic hub, which are recognized as UN World Heritage Sites.

Residents still in eastern Aleppo have pushed deeper south, amid testimony that conditions are becoming increasingly difficult due to illness, food shortages and a lack of medical facilities.

Hospitals have been repeatedly bombed by Syrian and Russian forces and a doctor said that only a make-shift underground clinic remains, though it is only able to carry out very basic services.

Pictures posted by some activists on a message group showed dead bodies lying on the ground waiting to be buried.

"Simply, people are unable to bury their loved [ones] anymore because of the heavy shelling and the danger engulfing the area," said Wissam Zarqa.
Some civilians have expressed fears about what may happen to them if the government takes control.

In previous deals with the government, the rebels have agreed to evacuate besieged areas and move to Idlib province, near the Turkish border.
However, the rebels are now saying that they no longer see Idlib as a safe option. Instead, they want evacuations to head to the Turkish-occupied zone in north Aleppo province.

Turkey said one soldier was killed and six injured in a car bombing near al-Bab, in that northern salient. Islamic State claimed the attack. Ankara invaded northern Syria in August, saying it was pushing back terrorists from its border.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said that one its military advisers was killed in Aleppo.

Near the capital Damascus, Israel allegedly carried out air raids on a Syrian army air base, according to media reports from outlets close to the Syrian government.

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