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Battle of Aleppo: Old City taken by Syrian army in major advance

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The Syrian army seized control of the whole of Aleppo’s Old City overnight on Tuesday, after rebels pulled out of the last areas under their control, sites close to the government reported.

The reports were corroborated on Wednesday morning by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said that rebels had pulled out of the last remaining districts of Bab al-Hadid and Aqyul.

The advance on the ground has been backed up by heavy air strikes on areas of the east still under rebel control.

News of the advance came as rebel factions in Aleppo put forward a proposal for a five-day ceasefire, after a day of heavy fighting reportedly killed dozens of civilians. The local White Helmet civil defence group put the number of those killed in various rebel-held districts on Tuesday at 53.

One image shared by activists on social media showed an elderly woman lying prone in a wheelchair after apparently being killed as she moved down the street.

Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday that the rebels were proposing the truce to allow civilians and severely injured people to be evacuated.

It did not specify which rebel groups were behind the proposal.

Rebels suffer setbacks

As well as reportedly losing control of the entire Old City, rebels on Tuesday suffered heavy losses in their former stronghold of eastern Aleppo.

Government troops retook seven districts including the strategic Shaar neighbourhood, and were in control of more than three quarters of former rebel territory in east Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

The monitor called Shaar “the most important neighbourhood in the heart of east Aleppo,” and said rebels were being reduced to fighting a “war of attrition”.

The rapid gains for the government have left opposition fighters scrambling to defend the shrinking enclave they still control in Aleppo’s southeastern districts.

Despite mounting criticism of the offensive that began on 15 November, world powers have struggled to find a way to halt the fighting.

“We have been trying to find a way to get to the negotiating table … but Assad has never shown any willingness,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

On the humanitarian front, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a “disgrace” that the international community had been unable to alleviate the suffering in east Aleppo.

Russian army colonel killed

Meanwhile, Russia said Wednesday that an army colonel working as a military advisor in Syria has died several days after being wounded by rebel shelling in Aleppo.

“Ruslan Galitsky passed away in hospital as a result of his serious injuries. Russian army medics fought for several days to save his life,” the defence ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

It said he was wounded in the shelling of a residential area in western Aleppo by the “so-called opposition”.

Galitsky – who reportedly commanded a tank brigade based in Siberia – is one of the highest-ranking Russian servicemen among the estimated 20 Moscow says have been killed in Syria.

The statement did not specify where or when exactly Galitsky died but said he had already been awarded a posthumous military award.

Moscow has mounted a bombing campaign to back up the forces of longtime ally Bashar al-Assad and says it has military advisors on the ground supporting regime troops.

On Monday Russia said two female Russian medics were killed by rebel shelling of an army field hospital in Aleppo.

[Source: Middle East Eye]
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