Russia seeks full withdrawal of Aleppo rebels
Russia seeks full withdrawal of Aleppo rebels –
(Reuters) – Russia said on Saturday it was ready for talks with the United States about a withdrawal of all Syrian rebels from eastern Aleppo, where advances by the Russian-backed Syrian army and its allies threaten to deal a crushing blow to the rebellion.
In just over a week, the army and allied militias have seized large areas of the opposition-held territory in eastern Aleppo in a ferocious campaign that may leave the rebels with no choice but to seek a negotiated passage out of the city.
With tens of thousands of civilians still living in the rebels’ shrinking enclave, the U.N. envoy for Syria suggested eastern Aleppo could fall by the end of the year and hoped a way could be found to avoid a “terrible battle”.
Responding to the Russian proposal, an official with an Aleppo rebel group said commanders in the city had vowed to fight on. They would support the opening of corridors for civilians to leave the city, but would not surrender it.
The government advances in Aleppo have brought President Bashar al-Assad to the brink of his biggest victory yet in a civil war that grew out of protests against his rule in 2011.
With no good options, the rebels have been holding talks with Russian officials which they say had produced agreements including the departure of all jihadist fighters from Aleppo. The aim was a ceasefire where FSA rebels would stay in the city.
But Zakaria Malahifji, the head of the political office of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim faction, said Lavrov’s comments had “canceled everything” and the meetings in Turkey had “almost come to a halt”.
The government has reached numerous local agreements with rebels in besieged areas by which they have been given safe passage to the insurgent-held province of Idlib in northwestern Syria. Some analysts believe the Aleppo rebels may eventually be forced to accept such an agreement.