Rebel groups in Aleppo, Syria are refusing to withdraw or surrender as the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad continue to push into areas of Aleppo. The latest offensive has placed much of the city into the hands of Assad and his coalition of allies, including Russia. Hundreds have been killed in the city in just the last few weeks as Assad attempts to regain control of Aleppo, which would mark his greatest victory since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
Russia Saturday called for talks with the United States to negotiate a full withdrawal of rebel groups, who are accused of being terrorists by the Assad government and Russia. The United States has backed the rebel groups and has called on Assad to step down and cede power in Syria. However, senior rebel official Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim insurgent group told Reuters that the rebels have no intention of standing down.
“Our response to the Americans was as follows: ‘we cannot leave our city, our homes, to the mercenary militias that the regime has mobilized in Aleppo,'” Malahifji said. “They listened to the response and did not comment.”
The attitude of the rebels in Aleppo is unsurprising. In the past, a number of cease-fire agreements were made to allow rebels and civilians to exit the city. After a long campaign of aerial bombardment leading up to the current offensive by Assad and his allies, Russia offered rebel fighters amnesty if they laid down arms or safe passage if they left Aleppo, Syria to join groups fighting in other areas of the country. However, very few of the rebel fighters took advantage of any of these offers, instead, staying to defend their strongholds within Aleppo.
Aleppo, once the largest city in Syria, is a key strategic location for both the Assad forces and the rebels. The rebels plan to use Aleppo as a base of operations in a future offensive against the capital, Damascus, and the Assad government forces see taking the city as key to turning the course of the war in their favor. An unnamed source within the Syrian military said that they expected to take the city very soon.
“The expectation is weeks…The Syrian Arab Army will continue to implement its missions until the elimination of the terrorists and the recovery of control over all the eastern districts,” the source said.
The Washington Post reports that the Assad government forces have taken at least three additional neighborhoods in the eastern part of Aleppo, Syria. The push brings them closer to the historical districts of Old Aleppo, a network of narrow streets that, if the rebels do not withdraw, will certainly be home to vicious house to house fighting.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 31,000 people have fled the city since the current Assad offensive began last week. Most have gone to government-controlled areas, but some have gone to rebel-held neighborhoods or to areas controlled by the Kurdish YPG, a group that has not engaged in much open hostility with the Assad forces. The United Nations hopes to have a seven-day cease-fire imposed in Aleppo, Syria Monday, which could be renewed. The cease-fire would allow rebels and civilians to leave Aleppo unharmed.
The civil war in Syria has raged since 2011, and much of Aleppo has been held by rebel groups since 2012. The current offensive may mean the conflict has entered the final stages. Already since 2011, tens of thousands have died and millions more have been displaced from their homes. Analysts say that although the rebels are holding now, they may have no choice but to withdraw soon. The United Nations believes around 100,000 civilians are trapped in the rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria.
[Featured Image by Hassan Ammar/AP Images]