Syrian rebels receive US-backed proposal to be safeguarded out of Aleppo, IS retakes Palmyra

People that came back to inspect their homes walk near goverment soldiers in goverment controlled Hanono housing district in Aleppo, Syria December 4, 2016. Reuters/Omar Sanadiki

Reuters – Syrian rebels have received a U.S.-backed proposal to leave Aleppo along with civilians under safe passage guaranteed by Russia, rebel officials said as government forces closed in on Sunday, but Moscow denied a deal had been reached.

If the proposal were to be taken up by all sides, it would end four years of fighting in the city, and months of siege and intense bombardment that have created a humanitarian crisis – particularly in rebel territory that has now shrunk to a small pocket crammed with civilians.

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 have yet to respond. But if fully accepted, the proposal would give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and Shi’ite 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 the ancient desert city of Palmyra on Sunday 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.

Asked whether they had been contacted by the United States and Russia over talks between the two powers in Geneva to find a way out of the crisis, one of the officials with rebel groups that are present in Aleppo said:

“They sent us a letter, they are saying to safeguard the civilians … you can leave in an honorable way to any place you choose and the Russians will pledge publicly that nobody will be harmed or stopped,” said one of the officials. “We have yet to give a response.”

A second official said a document “is being proposed to the factions, the fundamental thing in it is the departure of the all the fighters in an honorable way”.

However, 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.

Moscow was working to create the necessary conditions for the safe extraction of people from Aleppo, said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

“The issue of withdrawing militants is the subject of separate agreements. This agreement has not yet been reached, largely because the United States insists on unacceptable terms,” he said in comments reported by RIA news agency.

United Nations special Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura had no comment on the report, but some were skeptical that the proposal could succeed. “With all previous commitments reneged on by (the Syrian) regime/Russia it is difficult to see how rebels are to trust this offer of safe exit,” one former Western envoy in Syria told Reuters in Geneva.

As the army swept through east Aleppo in the past two weeks, taking three quarters of rebel ground, tens of thousands fled the fighting, some to government-held areas and others deeper into the insurgent pocket.

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