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Russia: Opposition fighters who refuse to leave Aleppo to be treated as terrorists

MOSCOW: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday he was confident Moscow and Washington can reach a deal in talks this week on the withdrawal of all rebels from the eastern part of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
He told a news conference once the deal was reached, rebels who stay in the besieged eastern part of the city will be treated as terrorists and Russia will support the operation of the Syrian army against them.
“Those armed groups who refuse to leave eastern Aleppo will be considered to be terrorists,” Lavrov said. “We will treat them as such, as terrorists, as extremists and will support a Syrian army operation against those criminal squads.”
Russia and the United States will start talks on the withdrawal in Geneva on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, and US Secretary of State John Kerry has sent his proposals on routes and timing of the withdrawal, Lavrov said.
“We believe that when the Americans proposed their initiative for militants to leave eastern Aleppo, they realized what steps they and their allies, who have an influence on militants stuck in eastern Aleppo, would have to take.”
He added that a United Nations resolution on a cease-fire would be counterproductive because a cease-fire would allow rebels to regroup.

District encircled

Overnight Sunday, the Syrian army and allied forces seized the Qadi Askar neighborhood and effectively encircled the large Shaar district, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the army was attacking both from inside east Aleppo and from government-held western districts.
“The regime is draining the rebel fighters of ammunition by opening many fronts at the same time,” he said.
Terrified residents spent a sleepless night in rebel-held neighborhoods, as dozens of rockets rained down, AFP’s correspondent in east Aleppo said.
Many switched off all their lights, even turning off generators, because they were attracting bombardment.
Residents were going into basements or cowering in the entrances of buildings in the hope of remaining safe.
Tens of thousands of east Aleppo residents have fled to other parts of the city during the fighting.
The Observatory says at least 324 people have been killed in east Aleppo during the offensive, including 44 children.
Rebel fire on the government-held west of the city has killed 73 people, including 29 children, in the same period, the monitor says.
The assault has added to the misery in east Aleppo, which has been targeted by relentless government fire since it fell to rebels in 2012.
The city’s east was surrounded by government forces in mid-July, and no aid has entered the area since.
International aid provisions have been exhausted and other food supplies are dwindling, meaning many residents are surviving on a single meal a day.
Hundreds of Syrians have been returning to recaptured east Aleppo districts in recent days, some years after they left, only to find their homes in ruins.
Kafa Jawish, 36, burst into tears as she saw her home for the first time in four years, reduced to little more than rubble.
“We were so optimistic… but now we’ve found it like this, uninhabitable,” she said.
“There’s nothing in it and the house is destroyed. Oh God.”
Violence has continued elsewhere in the country alongside the Aleppo fighting, with at least 72 people killed in air strikes and barrel bomb attacks across the northwestern province of Idlib on Sunday, the Observatory said.
Most of those killed died in air strikes on the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Kafr Nabal, the monitor said, adding that those strikes appeared to have been carried out by Russia.
The Observatory says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to their type, location, flight patterns and the munitions involved.
Moscow has dismissed reports of civilian casualties in its strikes.
Last month it said it was beginning a “major operation” in Idlib and central Homs province.

2nd Russian warplane crashes

Amid the fighting, a Russian Su-33 warplane crashed while landing on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, Russian news cited the Russian defense ministry as saying on Monday.
The pilot ejected from the plane and is safe, the defense ministry was quoted as saying.
The Admiral Kuznetsov is currently off the Syrian coast taking part in Russian military operations in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Another Russian warplane, a Mig-29K, crashed trying to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov in mid-November.

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