Syrian military sent texts to civilians telling them to leave rebel-held Aleppo

The messages came as the Syrian government has cut off rebel-held Aleppo from the outside world, potentially trapping the 250,000 people who live there in a violent siege without food, medicine, and other staples.

by Benjamin Gilbert
Jul 26 2016, 5:10pm

Des enfants sauvent quelques affaires après une frappe aérienne dans la ville tenue par les rebelles d'Atareb, dans la province d'Alep, le 25 juillet 2015.

The Syrian army sent text messages to civilians and fighters in rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Tuesday, saying it would provide safe passage to those who wanted to leave the area currently under siege by government forces.

The military's General Command said it would provide "makeshift housing centers for those who desire to leave, affirming keenness on securing all living requirements for the citizens who will leave the area," Syria's state news agency, SANA, reported.

"The General Command urged via the messages members of the armed groups to lay down their arms and take the initiative to settle their legal status," the agency said.

Eastern Aleppo is home to 250,000 people, and has been effectively cut off since government troops captured part of the only remaining road — the Castello Road — connecting the rebel-held area to other opposition-controlled regions in the country on July 7.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported intense clashes between government forces and rebels near the Castello Road, in the neighborhoods of Bani Zaid and Leiramon — formerly rebel-held areas that the regime has captured in recent weeks.

On Monday, at least 18 people were killed — two fighters and 16 civilians — when a Syrian government helicopter dropped a barrel bomb on the al-Mashad neighborhood in Aleppo, the UK-based Observatory said.

On Monday, United Nations aid chief asked the Security Council to push for a weekly 48-hour humanitarian pause in fighting to allow food and other aid to be delivered to Aleppo's east.

UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien said the United Nations and partners had pre-positioned aid stocks in "sad but all too real anticipation of such developments."

"But food in east Aleppo is expected to run out by the middle of next month," O'Brien told the 15-member council. "The international community simply cannot let eastern Aleppo city become yet another, and by far the largest, besieged area."

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He said any humanitarian pause needed to be 48 hours because the Castello Road was so damaged that only smaller trucks could be used, taking longer to deliver the assistance needed.

O'Brien's call for a weekly 48-hour pause was backed by the United States, Britain, France and others. Britain is drafting a council statement, diplomats said. Such statements have to be agreed by consensus. Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho, council president for July, said there was "overwhelming support" for the request.

Aleppo was Syria's most populous city before the war, and one of its main industrial hubs. It has been divided since 2012 between government and rebel-held zones. The fall of the city to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would represent a significant blow to the opposition movement.

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Reuters contributed to this report.