Syria conflict: Aleppo defeat 'not the end for rebels'

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image copyrightAFP
image captionPro-government forces regained all northern districts in rebel-held eastern Aleppo

The fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo would not mean the end of the fight against President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian opposition's senior negotiator has told the BBC.

George Sabra added, however, that it would make any hope of a peace deal more difficult.

Syrian forces backed by heavy air strikes have seized more than a third of rebel-held territory in the city.

Rebel factions say they have pulled back to a more defensible front line.

Thousands of civilians have fled besieged districts of Aleppo after heavy fighting over the weekend.

Mr Sabra, chief negotiator for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), told the BBC World Service that the loss of Aleppo would "not be the end of the revolution".

"Aleppo is an important place for the revolution but it's not the last place," he said.

"Right now, we have so many places under the power of (the) Free Syrian Army."

He warned that the military campaign being waged by the Syrian government and its allies was "killing a part of the political process".

"Nobody can think about peaceful solutions in these circumstances," he added.

The advances by pro-government forces followed two weeks of relentless aerial bombardment and captured all northern districts held by the rebels in eastern Aleppo.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionDisplaced families are fleeing to other parts of Aleppo

The Russian defence ministry said rebel factions had lost 12 districts, amounting to 40% of their territory.

Analysts say it is a devastating setback for the rebels, who seized the area in 2012. The government has made steady gains in Aleppo since Russia intervened to bolster President Assad in September last year.

Ibrahim Abu Al-Leith, a spokesman for the White Helmets rescue group in eastern Aleppo, said there was "mass displacement and morale is in the gutter".

"People are sleeping in the streets. They don't have anything to eat or drink," he told AFP news agency.

The UN said it was "deeply concerned" and reiterated its appeal for aid to be allowed into the affected areas.

Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said as many as 10,000 residents fled to government-controlled western areas and a Kurdish-run northern district.

media captionUNHCR spokesperson describes on Radio 4's Today the severity of the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo

State media showed men, women and children being transported to government-held areas on green buses.

Images from Kurdish groups who control the Sheikh Maqsoud area of Aleppo showed people fleeing into a Kurdish-controlled district from rebel-held neighbourhoods.

Hundreds of other civilians are reported to have fled south to the remaining rebel-held districts where residents were donating blankets and other items.

The Syrian newspaper Al-Watan predicted the next stage in the government offensive would be to divide the remaining rebel-held area into districts "that will be easily controlled".