Assad Tightens Grip On Aleppo, Claims To Offer Rebels Amnesty

Pro-government forces have closed in on the city as the governor says they will open humanitarian corridors.

28/07/2016 7:55 PM AEST | Updated 29/07/2016 12:19 AM AEST

BEIRUT/MOSCOW, July 28 (Reuters) - Syrian pro-government forces tightened their grip around Aleppo on Thursday, and the governor of the area said they would open corridors for civilians to escape the besieged, rebel-held districts of the city.

A quarter of a million civilians still live in Aleppo’s opposition-controlled eastern neighborhoods, effectively under siege since the army and allied militia cut off the last road into rebel districts in early July.

Syrian state television quoted the governor of Aleppo as saying three humanitarian corridors would be established for civilians to leave the city.

President Bashar al-Assad also offered an amnesty for rebels who surrender within three months.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said a fourth corridor would be set up in the north of the city for militants, near the Castello road which the army recently took over.

“On behalf of the President of the Russian Federation, today, (we will) start a large-scale humanitarian operation together with the Syrian government to help civilians in Aleppo,” Shoigu said in televised comments.

The Syrian army said on Wednesday it had dropped thousands of leaflets over opposition-heldAleppo districts, asking residents to cooperate with the military and calling on fighters to surrender.

Abdalrhman Ismail / Reuters
Residents inspect a damaged site after an airstrike on Aleppo's rebel held Al-Mashad neighbourhood, Syria July 26, 2016.

A picture of what appeared to be one of the leaflets showed a map of Aleppo, titled “Safe exit points from Aleppo city,” with four crossing points out of the rebel areas marked on the map and described as humanitarian corridors.

Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the outbreak of the conflict five years ago, has been divided between government forces and rebels since the summer of 2012. Its recapture would mark Assad’s biggest victory so far in the civil war.

The army, backed by allied militia forces and air strikes from Syrian and Russian jets, has taken more ground on the northern edge of the city, around the Castello road which leads out of Aleppoand north towards Turkey.

Syrian state television said the army had advanced in the Bani Zeid district, on the southern side of the Castello road. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pro-government forces had taken full control of the district.

A rebel source confirmed that the army had made advances. He said Kurdish forces from the nearby Sheikh Maqsoud district had also taken advantage of the fighting to advance into a housing complex in Bani Zeid.

“There has been a (rebel) withdrawal, but no one has surrendered,” Zakaria Malahifji of theAleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim group told Reuters.

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