ALEPPO • Rebels in Aleppo called for a five-day truce and the evacuation of civilians yesterday after losing more than three quarters of their territory, including the Old City to a Syrian army offensive.
In the face of a blistering assault by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the rebels were reported to have retreated yesterday from all of Aleppo's Old City, the latest in a string of territorial losses.
After three weeks of heavy fighting, regime forces appeared closer than ever to retaking all of Aleppo and winning their most important victory yet in the civil war that began in 2011.
Rebel fighters have rejected calls to withdraw from the city, which had been divided between government and opposition forces since 2012, but yesterday issued a joint statement calling for an "immediate five-day humanitarian ceasefire". The statement called for "the evacuation of civilians who wish to leave" the city's east to rebel territory in northern Aleppo province.
It made no mention of the fate of rebel fighters and urged "negotiations on the future of the city". Syria's government has said it will not agree to any ceasefire in Aleppo without a guarantee of a full rebel withdrawal.
The offensive showed no signs of slowing and overnight the army carried out heavy shelling of the Al-Zabdiya neighbourhood and other territories still under rebel control in the south-east of the city, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group. It said at least 80,000 people had now fled their homes.
Mr Assad's government has been urging civilians to leave east Aleppo for months and accused rebels of holding residents hostage for use as "human shields".