Assad sweeps Aleppo, rebels offered ‘safe’ exit

ISIS and Syrian activist claim Syrian governmenet attacked eastern Hama with poison gas

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Syria’s army seized a major district on Aleppo’s southeastern edges Monday, putting it in control of 98 percent of areas once held by rebels in the city, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad seized the Sheikh Saeed district early Monday after fierce clashes ongoing since the previous afternoon.

“The army is now in full control of Sheikh Saeed,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

“Syrian regime forces are now in control of 90 percent” of the one-time rebel areas in Aleppo’s east, he said.

On Sunday Syrian rebels received a US-backed proposal to leave Aleppo along with civilians under safe passage guaranteed by Russia, rebel officials said as government forces closed in, but Moscow denied a deal had been reached.

Three officials with insurgent groups in Aleppo told Reuters that a letter outlining the proposal had been received, offering an “honorable” departure for the rebels to a place of their choice.

Rebel groups have yet to respond. But if fully accepted, the proposal would give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and Shiite militias their greatest triumph in the civil war against the rebels who have fought for nearly six years to unseat him.

However, the sudden recapture by the ISIS of the ancient desert city of Palmyra on Sunday after a much-trumpeted army victory there in March has shown how difficult Assad may find it even after Aleppo to restore his rule across Syria.

Asked whether they had been contacted by the United States and Russia over talks between the two powers in Geneva to find a way out of the crisis, one of the officials with rebel groups that are present in Aleppo said:

“They sent us a letter, they are saying to safeguard the civilians ... you can leave in an honorable way to any place you choose and the Russians will pledge publicly that nobody will be harmed or stopped,” said one of the officials. “We have yet to give a response.”

A second official said a document “is being proposed to the factions, the fundamental thing in it is the departure of the all the fighters in an honorable way”.

However, Russia swiftly said it had not reached any agreement with the United States on a proposal to withdraw fighters from Aleppo and added that the Geneva talks were continuing.

A news agency linked to ISIS and a Syrian activist say airstrikes on an ISIS-held central region killed at least 20 people.

The Aamaq news agency says poison gas was used in the attack on the eastern side of the central province of Hama, killing 20 while 200 others suffered breathing problems.

The Syrian Observatory said 34 people, including 11 children and eight women, were killed in the attack.

In August, a report by an international team concluded that both the Syrian government and ISIS carried out chemical attacks in Syria during 2014 and 2015.

(With AFP, Reuters, and AP)

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