December 12, 2016 / 12:33 PM / 2 years ago

Rebel says Russia backtracked on Aleppo proposal

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian rebel official accused Russia on Monday of backtracking from a U.S.-backed proposal for rebel fighters and civilians to leave eastern Aleppo with Moscow guaranteeing them safe passage.

A civil defence member attempts to get out of a site hit at night by an airstrike in Saraqeb, in rebel-held Idlib province, Syria December 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

U.S. and Russian officials met in Geneva over the weekend to discuss the crisis in Aleppo, where rebels are being squeezed out of their territory by a rapid Syrian army advance which has displaced thousands of civilians.

No announcement was made after the meetings.

Zakaria Malahifji, an official in the Aleppo-based Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters from Turkey on Monday the United States and Russia had come up with the draft proposal offering rebels an “honorable” exit, but Russia then backtracked from it.

The Fastaqim group is part of the nationalist opposition Free Syrian Army alliance which has received military aid from countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, notably Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

On Sunday, officials with three rebel groups told Reuters they had received the proposal, which offered Free Syrian Army rebels a departure to a place of their choice, while jihadists would have to leave to Idlib province.

The rebels said on Sunday they had yet to respond to the proposal, which also offered guarantees for the safety of civilians who wished to stay in eastern Aleppo.

Russia said on Sunday it had not yet reached an agreement with the United States for rebel fighters to have safe passage out of Aleppo.

Malahifji said: “They proposed it on Saturday and agreed on it. But on Sunday they withdrew it, they did not stick by it. They refused. The Americans communicated (to us) that the Russians destroyed the negotiations, they failed.”

“The discussions have not come to a specific result which we can focus on,” he said.

“The Russians are being evasive. They are looking at the military situation where they are now advancing.”

“As soon as they agree on something clear, then the (rebel) groups will discuss it ... but there has been no clear agreement yet,” he said.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Tom Perry and Alison Williams

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