Syrian rebels retreat as government forces take over Aleppo's old city

December 7, 2016, 7:27am

The Syrian government now controls three-quarters of eastern Aleppo after rebels abandoned parts of the old city Tuesday night – areas that they had held for four years.

After days of intense fighting, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed on Wednesday morning that rebels had pulled out of the last remaining districts of Bab al-Hadid and Aqyul that surround the old citadel in the city.

Government forces also regained control of seven other districts Tuesday, according to the monitoring group. These included the Shaar neighborhood, which the Observatory called “the most important neighborhood in the heart of east Aleppo,” adding that rebels were reduced to fighting a “war of attrition.”

Retaking eastern Aleppo from the rebels would be seen as a significant victory for President Bashar al Assad in the five-year Syrian war.

The White Helmets civil defense force said 38 people had been killed on Tuesday and more than 200 injured in rebel-held districts of the city, with government forces on the ground backed up by airstrikes from Syrian and Russian aircraft.

While rebels have repeatedly said they would never abandon Aleppo, Reuters reports that they have called for an immediate five-day cease-fire. A “humanitarian initiative” document signed in the name of the Aleppo Leadership Council has requested the evacuation of around 500 critically ill and injured people from the eastern part of the city. The rebels also called for negotiations on the future of the city.

Discussions about the future of Syria have been going on for months, but multiple draft resolutions put forward by the U.N. Security Council attempting to address the humanitarian crisis have been vetoed by Russia and China. The most recent proposal, calling for a seven-day cease-fire, came earlier this week.

Speaking at a NATO foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he will once again engage in talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Wednesday or Thursday in an attempt to broker a resolution to alleviate the suffering of civilians still trapped in eastern Aleppo. “Russia says Assad is ready to come to the table, and I am in favor of putting that to the test,” Kerry said.