US-Russian 'safe exit' deal presented to Aleppo rebels

US-Russian 'safe exit' deal presented to Aleppo rebels
3 min read
12 December, 2016
Thousands have fled rebel-held east Aleppo amid large-scale advances by pro-regime troops with an end to the battle for Aleppo seemingly looming.
Assad's forces are now said to control 85 percent of east Aleppo [AFP]

The United States and Russia have put forward a proposal offering rebel fighters safe passage out of the contested city of Aleppo, according to rebel officials based in the city’s besieged eastern districts.

According to Reuters, a draft proposal of the deal, sent to the news agency by rebel officials said the Syrian government would provide a public guarantee that both combatants and civilians would be given safe passage and would not face being detained or harmed, while also guaranteeing the safety of civilians who wanted to remain in Aleppo.

Hundreds of Syrian men and boys have gone missing after entering regime-controlled Aleppo, the UN said earlier this week, among claims from opposition activists that some have been forced to take up arms and join regime ranks.

Opposition officials who spoke to Reuters said that rebel groups in Aleppo were yet to respond to the proposal.  

Speaking to The New Arab earlier this week, Amin Malhees, a spokesman for the Army of Mujahedeen – a coalition of rebel factions that has received support from Washington – said that a rebel withdrawal from Aleppo was “unacceptable” claiming that opposition forces remained capable of pushing back advances by regime troops.

This is viewed as increasingly unlikely by analysts.

Commenting on developments on Sunday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that no deal had been reached, in part due to Washington’s intransigence.

Fighters from other opposition groups would reportedly be permitted to head to other areas including rebel-held territory near the Turkish border in northeastern Aleppo province.

"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," said Ryabkov, according to Russian state affiliated news agency RIA Novosti.

The specifics of the deal are said to include clauses calling for gunmen from the al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, who rebel leaders say are only found in small numbers in East Aleppo, to leave to Idlib province. 

Fighters from other opposition groups would reportedly be permitted to head to other areas including rebel-held territory near the Turkish border in northeastern Aleppo province.

UN monitoring of the withdrawal, is supposedly included within the terms of the proposal, while the deal would be implemented over a 48-hour period with rebel fighters allowed to take their light weapons with them, but leave heavy weapons behind. 

Thousands have fled the besieged districts of east Aleppo in the past two weeks amid large-scale advances by pro-Assad troops, while more than 300 people have been killed, according to monitors, amid continued aerial campaigns carried out by Syrian and Russian aircraft.

Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are now said to control 85 percent of territory in east Aleppo previously held by rebel groups. 

Meanwhile rebel groups have been accused of firing on civilians attempting to leave the area, and conducting attacks on regime-held West Aleppo that have resulted in civilian deaths. 

On Sunday the office of the UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan De Mistura declined to comment on reports that a withdrawal deal had been presented to rebel troops. 

Speaking earlier this week, De Mistura said that the battle for Aleppo was “at the last steps,” adding “[it] is likely to end very soon”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who this week has met with Russian officials in Geneva, has called the conflict in Aleppo the “worst since World War II itself.”