There are conflicting reports over whether the Russian-backed Syrian government has halted its military push to retake the rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
There are conflicting reports coming out of Aleppo.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is on record as saying the Syrian government forces, back by Moscow, have halted their offensive to retake the rebel-held east of the city.
However, there are multiple eyewitness reports of fighting continuing on the ground.
What Russia says
Russian news agencies are quoting the country’s foreign minister as saying the Syrian army has halted its military activity to let civilians leave rebel-held territory.
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) December 8, 2016
“Combat operations by the Syrian army in east Aleppo have been suspended because the largest operation of evacuation of civilians from east Aleppo is being carried out. A column of about 8 thousand people, it is a tremendous operation,” Sergei Lavrov told the Sputnik news agency.
Russia’s air force is providing tactical support on the Syrian government side, which is also backed by Shi’ite militias from Arab countries.
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What eyewitnesses are saying
However, eyewitnesses say Syrian government forces are pressing ahead with an offensive in Aleppo, as part of their push to retake all of the besieged, rebel-held east of the country.
A military source told the Reuters news agency: “Until now, 32 neighbourhoods have been liberated out of an original 40 in east Aleppo..the advance is going according to plan and is sometimes faster than expected.”
“Helicopters, warplanes and rocket bombardment, like every other day. Nothing has changed,” a Turkish-based official with the Jabha Shamiya rebel group told the Reuters news agency, as of 0930 am on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, says government rocket attacks on frontline areas of east Aleppo continued overnight into Friday morning.
Calls for a ceasefire
On Wednesday, the rebels called for an immediate, five-day ceasefire and for civilians and wounded to be immediately evacuated to safety.
However, they gave no indication they were ready to with draw, as demanded by Damascus and its ally, Moscow.
Syria and Russia say they want the rebels to leave Aleppo and will not consider a ceasefire until that happens.
What is the UN saying?
The UN says fresh talks are needed to find a political solution to the six-year conflict.
Another round of discussions will be held in Geneva on Saturday.
“At this stage we have discovered that evacuation of civilians is taking place sometimes almost immediately,” the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura told reporters in New York on Thursday.
“Russia and Syria have not waited for us. The same could be said for the evacuation or the voluntary evacuation of fighters if there was an arrangement on that.”
“Saturday is the day, that’s what is being discussed in Geneva.”
#Aleppo DeMistura: Syrian gov suspended active combat activity for 8,000 civilians to be evacuated; will meet #TrumpTransition Tues
SpainUN</a> <a href="https://t.co/snQO94gnrX">pic.twitter.com/snQO94gnrX</a></p>— Pamela Falk (PamelaFalk) December 8, 2016
Syrian government and allied forces have, in the last two weeks, driven rebels from most of their territory in what was once Syria’s most populous city.
The rebels have controlled the eastern section since 2012.
Up to 275,000 civilians and an estimated 8,000 opposition fighters are thought to be trapped in the siege.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview published on Thursday that retaking Aleppo would change the course of the civil war across the country.
— Luis Carballo (@LCEuronews) December 9, 2016