Syrian troops say they control 98 percent of eastern Aleppo
BEIRUTThe Syrian military said on Dec. 12 that it has gained control of 98 percent of eastern Aleppo, previously a rebel-held enclave, reducing the rebel territory to a small sliver packed with civilians and fighters squeezed under fire.
A Syrian rebel spokesman said opposition fighters were retreating in eastern Aleppo under intense government fire that was putting thousands of civilians at risk, calling the collapse “terrifying,” according to The Associated Press.
The military statement came hours after Syrian forces, aided by Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, took Sheik Saeed, one of the largest neighborhoods in the southern part of the rebel territory, tightening the noose on the enclave.
The military also said its multi-pronged ground push on Monday captured the al-Fardous neighborhood, one of the most populated districts to the north of Sheik Saeed. Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the district remains under fire and that fighting continues there.
He estimated that about seven percent of the enclave remains under rebel control.
“The situation is very, very critical,” said Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the Syrian Civil Defense. “The military took many areas and we are now squeezed.” Al-Haj had been on the move to find a place to keep him and his family away from the clashes and possible government capture.
Hours before the Syrian army’s announcement, Reuters reported citing rebel officials that Syrian rebels had received a U.S.-backed proposal to leave Aleppo along with civilians under safe passage guaranteed by Russia, but Moscow denied a deal had been reached.
Three officials with insurgent groups in Aleppo told Reuters that a letter outlining the proposal had been received, offering an “honorable” departure for the rebels to a place of their choice.
Rebel groups had not yet responded.
Russia swiftly said it had not reached any agreement with the United States on a proposal to withdraw fighters from Aleppo and added that the Geneva talks were continuing.
But if fully accepted, the proposal would give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and Shiite militias their greatest triumph in the civil war against the rebels who have fought for nearly six years to unseat him.
However, the sudden recapture by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of the ancient desert city of Palmyra on Dec. 11 after a much-trumpeted army victory there in March has shown how difficult Assad may find it even after Aleppo to restore his rule across Syria.
Syrian state radio reported the army had evacuated its positions inside Palmyra, whose Roman-era ruins have become an emblem of the conflict. They were redeploying around the city.