banner

Aleppo battle: Syria rebels ‘withdraw from old city’

Aleppo citadel - photo taken from government-held western Aleppo - 3 DecemberImage copyright
AFP

Image caption

The area around the citadel has been in rebel hands for the last four years

Syrian rebels have left the last areas they held in Aleppo’s old city, while calling for a five-day truce to allow the evacuation of civilians.

Activist monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the pull-back in Syria’s second city came after days of heavy fighting.

State media confirmed the military had taken over the whole of the old city.

Government forces now control about 75% of eastern Aleppo, held by the rebels for the past four years.

The rebels, who had been left with just a spit of land north-east of the citadel after recent government advances, abandoned it by Wednesday morning, retreating to territory they still hold further south.

  • What’s happening in Aleppo?
  • Aleppo tweeting girl back online
  • ‘We are crying and afraid’

The US, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Canada jointly called for an immediate ceasefire on Wednesday, so that the UN can send vital supplies to eastern Aleppo.

They also condemned the Syrian government and its main backer Russia for “their obstruction of humanitarian aid”, accusing them of targeting hospitals and schools “in an attempt to wear people down”.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

A stream of peopleleft Bab al-Hadid, a district of Aleppo that rebels have reportedly lost, on Wednesday

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Pro-government forces have already recaptured most of eastern Aleppo

In a separate development, Syrian state news agency Sana reported that several Israeli missiles struck the Mazzeh military air base outside the capital Damascus overnight, causing a fire but no casualties.

‘Great danger’

Tens of thousands of civilians are still trapped in the last of the rebel-held districts of Aleppo.

One resident said those districts were now heavily crowded and there were fears that people faced being captured, detained and tortured to death.

“I know people who literally did nothing, they just kept doing nothing for four, five years, they just wanted to stay in their homes and now they are being arrested by the regime,” Wissam, a teacher and activist said.

Media captionWissam: There is a lot of fear

Food supplies are exhausted and there are no functioning hospitals after months of heavy bombardment.

The BBC’s Lyse Doucet in Aleppo says officials there are preparing for another exodus, as families try to flee under fire in an extremely dire situation.

The SOHR said remaining rebel-held areas in the south-east of the city came under heavy artillery fire overnight.

At least 15 people were killed in government bombardments on Tuesday, it added.

Plea for ceasefire

A statement by the rebel Aleppo Leadership Council said civilians were in great danger, and it would support any initiative to ease their suffering.

“Civilians should be either protected or evacuated to a safe area where they will not be under the mercy of [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and his henchmen,” it said.

It proposed:

  • An immediate five-day humanitarian ceasefire
  • Evacuation of about 500 cases requiring emergency treatment under UN supervision
  • Evacuation of civilians to the northern Aleppo countryside
  • Negotiations on the future of the city
Media captionBBC Newsnight meets the journalists risking their lives to film in Aleppo

The Syrian government has ruled out any further truces in Aleppo, and Russia and China on Monday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on a week-long ceasefire.

French President Francois Hollande responded to the veto by accusing Russia of “systematic obstruction” which “bolsters the regime of Bashar al-Assad in its destructive drive which is harming the defenceless civilian population”.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described all the remaining rebels in eastern Aleppo as “terrorists”, saying that they had united around the jihadist group formerly known as al-Nusra Front.

  • Why is Russia engaged in Aleppo?

Meanwhile, the Russian defence ministry reported that a Russian military adviser in Syria had been killed by rebel artillery fire.

Col Ruslan Galitsky died of his wounds several days after the attack, on a residential area of government-held western Aleppo, it said.