World

Aleppo exodus grows as thousands more leave

More than 20,000 civilians left eastern Aleppo today as government forces continued to hammer rebel-held areas of the city.

Syrian forces now control nearly all of the former opposition stronghold, says Russian official

Syrian civilians wait at a checkpoint, manned by pro-government forces, at the al-Hawoz street roundabout, after leaving Aleppo's eastern neighbourhoods on Saturday. (George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 20,000 civilians left eastern Aleppo and over 1,200 rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad laid down their arms on Saturday, the Russian defence ministry said.

The number of people leaving through humanitarian corridors to areas controlled by the Syrian government has grown to about 50,000 over the past two days, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

"Syrian authorities control 93 per cent of the city today," Konashenkov said in a video briefing by the ministry, which released aerial images of streams of people pouring along Aleppo's narrow streets.

Western news media outlets could not independently verify how much of Syria's second largest city was now under government control.

Syrian civilians arrive at the al-Hawoz street checkpoint after leaving eastern Aleppo. (George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian's military and Russian warplanes bombarded rebel-held districts of Aleppo on Saturday as Damascus's allies said victory was near, but insurgents fought back and army advances halted after rapid gains during the week.

The insurgents are holed out in a handful of areas mostly south of the historic Old City, having lost nearly three-quarters of territory they controlled for years in the space of around two weeks.

While thousands of people have left rebel districts for government-held areas, others have gone to areas under rebel 
control fearing arrest and reprisals by government forces.

Plea for safe passage

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia to show "a little grace" when American and Russian officials meet in Geneva later on Saturday to try to reach a deal enabling civilians and fighters to leave the besieged city of Aleppo.

Syrian government forces have retaken more than 90 per cent of eastern Aleppo, according to a Russian official. Rebels had secured the enclave for themselves in 2012. (George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

"Fighters ... don't trust that if they agreed to leave to try to save Aleppo that it will save Aleppo and they will be unharmed," Kerry told reporters in Paris after a meeting of countries opposed to Assad.

"The choice for many of them ... is to die in Aleppo, die in [neighbouring] Idlib, but die," he added.

The United States said it was meeting a Russian team in Geneva to find a way to save lives, but an agreement looked elusive as the two countries, which back opposing sides, have repeatedly failed to strike a deal to allow evacuations and help aid deliveries.

Aleppo's recapture would deal a major blow to rebels who have fought to unseat President Bashar al-Assad in a nearly six-year war, which has killed more than 300,000 people and made more than 11 million homeless.

now