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7 Dec, 2016 19:16

Syrian Army retakes 70% of E. Aleppo, evacuates over 1,200 civilians – Russian military

Syrian government forces have liberated 15 more eastern Aleppo neighborhoods in the last 24 hours, the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria said, adding that the advance has allowed the Syrian Army to evacuate 1,200 residents of the city.

The Syrian authorities now “fully control 50 neighborhoods in the eastern part of [Aleppo] that account for 70 percent of the territory that was initially controlled by the militants,” the Reconciliation Center’s statement reads.

On Wednesday, 1,224 civilians were able to flee militant-held areas for government-controlled neighborhoods, as the Syrian Army continued its offensive. The people have been provided with water, food, and medical assistance at humanitarian centers set up by Russia.

At the same time, 66 militants laid down their arms and left for western Aleppo, the statement adds. In accordance with the Syrian president’s offer, all militants who are local residents were immediately pardoned.

Earlier, SANA news agency also reported that governmental forces had liberated the Old City and evacuated more than 200 civilians from that area.

On Wednesday, Syrian government forces were able to seize control over two districts north of the Aleppo Citadel – the Aghiour and Bab al-Hadid neighborhoods – as militants left their positions and retreated further south, the news agency added.

Tuesday saw the Syrian Army also take control over the Karm al-Dada, Karm al-Qatirji, al-Shaar and al-Marjeh neighborhoods located in the southern and eastern parts of the city, as well as the al-Sheikh Lutfi area.

On Wednesday, Syrian Reconciliation Minister Dr. Ali Haidar called the advance of the Syrian Army a “strategic victory” that would prevent foreign intervention, as reported by Reuters.

"Those who believed in the Syrian triumph know that [the militants’] morale is at its lowest and that these collapses that have begun are like domino tiles," he said.

Militants ask for truce amid Syrian Army advance

The militant groups entrenched in eastern Aleppo asked the Syrian government for an immediate ceasefire, citing the need to evacuate wounded fighters as Syrian forces advanced deeper into the militant-held areas.

The proposal, which envisages a five-day truce, was presented by the Aleppo command center that reportedly represents an alliance of various armed groups fighting government forces in the eastern part of the war-torn city, AP reports.

According to the proposal, the truce is needed to facilitate the evacuation of the wounded militants to the northern part of the Aleppo province controlled by Turkey, dpa news agency reports. The militants said that they are not satisfied with the government proposals allowing them to leave Aleppo and move to the Idlib province, as they no longer see it as a safe option, dpa adds.

A militant spokesman said that Al-Nusra Front, an extremist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda that also is present in Aleppo, would also observe the terms of the truce, according to AP. The offer said nothing about militants leaving Aleppo and stressed instead that the fate of the city would be discussed after the “humanitarian crisis resolution.”

The Syrian government rejected the proposal, insisting that the militants should leave the city. "We will not accept any truce," Fares Shehabi, an MP for Aleppo, told dpa by telephone. "If they do not leave we will continue our attack," he warned.

Meanwhile, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the militants are still free to leave Aleppo and that this proposal is still in force.

“As for the militants leaving [Aleppo] … they were offered to leave and that topic was discussed earlier,” he told journalists, adding that “this issue is in fact still on the agenda.”

He also expressed his regret that the militants still reject this proposal. “Unfortunately, only a few left [the city] so far [and] most militants still stay [there],” he said.

Lavrov & Kerry to meet in Hamburg to discuss Syria

In the meantime, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Russia is still holding talks with the Syrian opposition.

Russia “still maintains contacts with the Syrian opposition,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists during a news briefing on Wednesday, stressing that Russia “has never concealed this fact.”

“We have always spoken about what Russia is doing [in this direction] and stressed that [everyone] could join this process,” she said.

Her statements come as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to meet his US and German counterparts, John Kerry and Frank-Walter Steinmeier respectively, in Hamburg on Wednesday on the sidelines of the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting, particularly to discuss the situation in Syria.

Negotiations between Russia and the US concerning the Syrian crisis still continue, although the sides have not been able to achieve any breakthrough so far, Peskov said earlier on Wednesday.

“Contacts at the expert level still continue … although I have no information about any new proposals being presented,” he said. On Tuesday, Lavrov said that Washington abruptly withdrew its own proposal concerning the solution for the Aleppo crisis made on December 2.

The US proposal initially involved free passage for all ‘opposition’ factions from the eastern part of Aleppo that are still under US control. However, Washington is now working on an alternative plan for the city, Lavrov said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, six Western nations pushed for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo on Wednesday. "The most urgent goal remains an immediate ceasefire so that the United Nations can bring humanitarian aid to people in East Aleppo," said the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, the United States, Canada and Britain in a statement, as reported by Reuters.

They urged the Syrian government to agree to a plan presented by the UN “to end the terrible situation in Aleppo” and called on Russia and Iran “to exercise their influence to make this happen.”

At the same time, they indicated their readiness to impose additional sanctions against the allies of the Syrian government.