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The New Arab

Syrian rebels reject withdrawal plan amid Russia's chilling warnings

The Syrian army has seized two-thirds of east Aleppo [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 December, 2016

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Syrian rebels have ruled out a withdrawal from eastern Aleppo despite Russia warning it would treat all captured rebels as terrorists.
Russia has threatened Syrian opposition fighters they will be treated as "terrorists" unless they agree to a Moscow-sponsored plan to withdraw from East Aleppo.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said those fighters that did not leave East Aleppo would be subject to the full wrath or the Russian and Syrian regime war planes and militias.

"Those armed groups who refuse to leave eastern Aleppo will be considered to be terrorists," Lavrov said, according to Reuters. "We will treat them as such, as terrorists, as extremists and will support a Syrian army operation against those criminal squad."

"We believe that when the Americans proposed their initiative for militants to leave eastern Aleppo, they realised what steps they and their allies, who have an influence on militants stuck in eastern Aleppo, would have to take it."

Two of Aleppo's leading rebel groups have ruled out the withdraw plan and said they would fight to defend Syrians living in the district.

Yasser al-Youssef of the Nour al-Deen al-Zinki rebel group said any proposals "for the exit of rebel groups would be unacceptable".

"It is for the Russians to leave Aleppo, and for the sectarian militias to leave Aleppo and Syria and stop interfering in the internal affairs of Syrians," he told AFP.

In another comment, Abu Abdel Rahman al-Hamawi of the Jaish al-Islam  said the revolutionaries would not leave Aleppo and "will fight the Russian and Iranian occupation until the last drop of blood".

"This is our land and the land of our ancestors, and we will stay on it, and defend it, God willing," he said. "The revolution will continue until victory."

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Both officials said rebels remained willing to approve a UN plan for the entry of humanitarian aid into the east, which has been besieged by regime forces since mid-July.

It followed Lavrov's earlier announcement that Russia would hold talks with Washington on the proposed withdrawal of rebels from the city.

Meanwhile, opposition sources said rebel fighters had kept control of territory in Karam al-Katerji and Karam al-Rahal districts of Aleppo, including an eye hospital.

Pro-regime media said that heavy clashes had taken part in these areas but rebels were pushed back after "fierce resistance from the government forces".

Meanwhile, Russia said an army medic was killed and two others seriously in "rebel shelling" of a field hospital in Aleppo.

"As a result of a shell directly hitting the reception area of the hospital, one Russian female military medic was killed," Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. 

"Two medical workers were heavily wounded. Local residents who had come to visit the doctors were also injured."

It is for the Russians to leave Aleppo, and for the sectarian militias to leave Aleppo and Syria and stop interfering in the internal affairs of Syrians.
- Yasser al-Youssef

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier that Moscow would hold talks with Washington this week on a timeframe for the withdrawal of all rebels from Aleppo.

"During the Russian-American consultations, the concrete route and timeframe for the withdrawal of all fighters from eastern Aleppo will be agreed upon," he said, indicating the talks in Geneva would likely start on Tuesday or Wednesday.

"As soon as these routes and timeframes are agreed on, a ceasefire can come into effect," Lavrov said.

Tens of thousands of East Aleppo residents have fled to other parts of the city from the fighting, which has raised widespread international concern.

International aid provisions have been exhausted and other food supplies are dwindling, meaning many residents are surviving on a single meal a day.

Losing Aleppo to regime troops would mark the biggest defeat for rebel forces in Syria's five-year civil war.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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