Syrian rebels tonight said they have reached a ceasefire deal with Moscow to evacuate civilians and fighters from eastern Aleppo.
The deal comes after the United Nations and opposition activists reported possible mass killings by government forces closing in on the rebels’ last enclave.
There was no immediate comment from Damascus or Moscow on the deal, which would effectively cede the remainder of Syria’s largest city to president Bashar al-Assad’s forces after months of fighting and a crippling siege.
Osama Abu Zayd, a Turkey-based legal adviser for the umbrella group of rebel factions known as the Free Syrian Army, said the ceasefire went into effect last night and the first group of people would begin leaving within hours.
Yasser al-Youssef, a spokesman for the Nour el-Din el-Zinki rebel group, confirmed the ceasefire and said the goal is to evacuate civilians and rebels from besieged areas.
It was not immediately clear whether the hostilities had ceased in Aleppo. The opposition-run Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said shelling was continuing.
World leaders and aid agencies issued dramatic appeals on behalf of trapped residents earlier yesterday. The UN human rights office said that pro-government forces reportedly killed 82 civilians “on the spot” as they closed in on remaining rebel districts.
That and other reports of mass killings, which could not be independently confirmed, reinforce fears of atrocities in the final hours of the battle for the city, which has been split between rebel and government control since 2012.
Several residents and opposition activists said that government forces carried out summary killings of rebels in the streets in neighbourhoods captured on Monday, but the Syrian military denied the claims, saying such allegations were “a desperate attempt” to try gain international sympathy.
The UN’s children agency Unicef said that there could be more than 100 unaccompanied children trapped in building under fire in eastern Aleppo, citing a report from an unnamed doctor in the city.
Regional director Geert Cappalaere said Unicef is concerned over the reports of “extrajudicial killings of civilians, including children”. The UN’s human rights office said it has received reports of pro-government forces killing at least 82 civilians in four neighbourhoods of the shrinking rebel enclave, including 11 women and 13 children.
Spokesman Rupert Colville said the reports recount pro-government forces entering homes and killing civilians “on the spot”. He said the reports came in late on Monday and he does not know exactly when the killings took place.