Assad regime forces and their allies seized the old city in the heart of Aleppo on Wednesday, tightening the grip on the rebels who lost 80% of their territory and asked for a truce in the city.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo since the start of this year.
They have gradually closed in on eastern Aleppo this year, first cutting the most direct lifeline to Turkey before fully encircling the east, and launching a major assault in September.
Assad regime forces started a major offensive to push opposition fighters out of the besieged eastern half of the city on 15 November.
Helicopters continue extensively dropping barrel bombs in conjunction with airstrikes by warplanes on areas in the eastern neighborhoods of the city, accompanied by artillery shelling by the regime forces in the same places.
The regime’s forces’ persistent and the intensive airstrikes forced the rebels to leave the areas they hold.
Government forces scored an important victory on Wednesday when the rebels retreated from the Old City, the historic heart of Aleppo.
They extended their advances later in the day, seizing the Bab al-Nayrab, Al-Maadi and Salhin neighborhoods, according to state media.
More neighborhoods were expected to fall soon, but rebels were fighting ferociously.
In a blistering, three-week offensive, Assad regime forces have seized about 80 percent of east Aleppo, a stronghold for rebel groups since 2012, and became close to winning the battle there.
The Syrian Civil Defence, a first responder group also known as the White Helmets, said air strikes and shelling on Wednesday killed 61 people in what’s left of the rebel-held east of the city.
Syria state television reported late on Wednesday that rebel shelling killed 14 civilians and wounded 70 others, some critically, targeting government-held districts in west Aleppo.
According to Assad, a victory for his army in the city of Aleppo would be a “huge step” towards ending “the country’s crisis”.
“It’s true that Aleppo will be a win for us, but let’s be realistic – it won’t mean the end of the war in Syria,” Assad said. “But it will be a huge step towards this end.”
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.
— Lina shamy (@Linashamy) December 8, 2016
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) December 7, 2016
Rebels seek a ceasefire
Syrian rebels in besieged eastern Aleppo called on Wednesday for an immediate five-day ceasefire and the evacuation of civilians and wounded, but gave no indication they were ready to withdraw as demanded by Damascus and Moscow.
In a statement calling for the truce, the rebels made no mention of evacuating the several thousand fighters who are defending theremaining small area in the city.
Damascus and Moscow have been calling on rebels to withdraw from the city, disarm and accept safe passage out, a procedure that has been carried out in other areas where rebels abandoned besieged territory in recent months.
On Monday, Russia and China blocked a draft resolution at the UN Security Council demanding a seven-day truce in Aleppo to evacuate the sick and wounded, and to provide humanitarian aid workers time to get food and medicine in.
Moscow argued that rebels used such pauses in the fighting to reinforce, causing more fighting and “harm to civilians”.
the US sought talks with Russia for a ceasefire in the city too, but Lavrov accused Washington of backtracking.
“It looks like an attempt to buy time for the rebels to have a breather, take a pause and replenish their reserves,”
Assad regime said 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 the foreign ministry statement.
“It therefore rejects any attempt by any side to reach a ceasefire in east Aleppo that would not include the exit of all terrorists.”
“Those who refuse to leave nicely will be destroyed,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow, speaking of the Syrian rebels. “There is no other way.”
Russia’s propaganda machine is hard at work alongside the Syrian regime’s, trying to frame these events as the “liberation” of a population described as hostages of Islamic terrorists.
— Military Advisor (@miladvisor) December 8, 2016
UN: Civilians evacuation is needed
The UN haven’t been able to stop the Assad-Russian offensive since its very beginning, and will not be able to convince them to stop it as their victory became close.
The only way the UN can save its face and claim that it is worried about Aleppo is by calling for “safe evacuation for civilians.”
With hospitals, clinics, water and food cut off, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called the situation was “heart-breaking”.
U.N. Syria humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Thursday that the United States and Russia must broker an evacuation from east Aleppo.
“Russia said they will definitely be discussing with us how to organize the evacuations, but they are not any more promising any pause (in fighting),” Egeland said.
“Today 150,000 people are threatened with extermination,” he said.
The U.N. described east Aleppo’s health situation as “catastrophic”.
Some 1,500 people need medical evacuation, including 500 “seriously wounded”, said Tawfik Chamaa of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations.
A UN official said about 31,500 people from east Aleppo have been displaced around the entire city over the past week, with hundreds more seen on the move on Wednesday.
The evacuated civilians faced a new threat, as Assad regime forces arrested tens of men between 18-35 and took them to unknown directions.
— Anadolu Images (@anadoluimages) December 8, 2016
— ICRC Syria (@ICRC_sy) December 8, 2016
Capturing eastern Aleppo would be the biggest victory for Assad regime since the start of the revolution against him in 2011, restoring his control over the whole city apart from a Kurdish-held area that has not fought against him.
It would also be seen as a victory for his allies, Russia and Iran, which have outmaneuvered the West and Assad’s regional enemies through direct military intervention.
For Assad regime, taking back Aleppo would make its forces focus on ending the remaining rebels-held areas. These areas include the rebels’ stronghold in Idlib in addition to isolated areas in rural Damascus, Homs, and Hama.