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Russia vetoes UN resolution calling for seven-day Aleppo ceasefire

Vote comes after foreign minister says Russian and US diplomats will this week discuss plan for 'complete withdrawal' of all rebels from Syrian city
Aleppo civilians reach out for aid from Russian forces (Reuters)

Russia and China on Monday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a seven day ceasefire in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo.

Venezuela also voted against the text presented by Spain, Egypt and New Zealand, while Angola abstained.

The vote came hours after Russia said it was preparing to discuss with the US the "complete withdrawal" of rebels from the city, and warned any who refused to leave would be treated as "terrorists" and "criminals".

Syrian rebels had earlier ruled out a pullout, despite sweeping advances by pro-government units.

The Syrian army has now seized two-thirds of east Aleppo and continued to advance on Monday, pounding remaining territory held by anti-goverrnment forces.

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia will discuss timelines and exit routes for all fighters with the United States.

"As soon as these routes and timeframes are agreed on, a ceasefire can come into effect. Those armed groups who refuse to leave eastern Aleppo will be considered to be terrorists," he said.

"We will treat them as such, as terrorists, as extremists and will support a Syrian army operation against those criminal squads."

On Tuesday, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) condemned Russia and China for vetoing the ceasefire resolution, which the organisation said was meant to save lives.

SAMS said its facilities and staff can no longer operate in east Aleppo because of the dire conditions.

The group accused the government of systematically denying emergency medical evacuations, targeting hospitals and seizing medical equipment, "leaving too many without the critical and life-saving medical care they need".

SAMS said all of Aleppo’s hospitals were bombed out of service in November, including the largest facility, which was operated by the group.

Government forces used illegal weapons in the bombing campaign, including barrel bombs, bunker buster bombs, and cluster bombs, according to SAMS.

The organisation also denounced international "inaction".

Rebels say no to idea of withdrawal

Officials from two rebel groups in Aleppo said they would reject any plan that involved the withdrawal of fighters from the city.

Yasser al-Youssef of the Nureddine al-Zinki rebel group said any proposals "for the exit of rebel groups would be unacceptable."

Kefa Jawish and her husband in Aleppo's northeastern Haydariya neighbourhood on 4 December (AFP)

"It is for the Russians to leave Aleppo, and for the sectarian militias to leave Aleppo and Syria and stop interfering in the internal affairs of Syrians," he told AFP.

Russia is a staunch ally of Syria's government, and it launched a military campaign to bolster President Bashar al-Assad's forces in September 2015.

The government also fights alongside Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah movement, Iranian forces and Shia fighters from other countries.

"The revolutionaries will not leave Aleppo and will fight the Russian and Iranian occupation until the last drop of blood," said Abu Abdel Rahman al-Hamawi of the Army of Islam, another rebel group.

'It is for the Russians to leave Aleppo, and for the sectarian militias to leave Aleppo and Syria and stop interfering in the internal affairs of Syrians'

- Yasser al-Youssef, Nureddine al-Zinki rebel group

"This is our land and the land of our ancestors, and we will stay on it, and defend it, God willing," he said. "The revolution will continue until victory."

The loss of Aleppo would mark the biggest defeat yet for opposition forces in Syria's five-year civil war.

Rebel forces seized east Aleppo in 2012, and the army last month launched a major operation to recapture it.

So far, the government assault on east Aleppo has killed nearly 320 civilians and over 200 rebels, according to a monitoring group.

UN ceasefire proposal

Both officials said rebels remained willing to approve a UN plan for the entry of humanitarian aid into the east, which has been besieged by government forces since mid-July.

The assault has raised an international outcry and the UN Security Council met on Monday on the draft resolution - drawn up by Egypt, New Zealand and Spain - for a seven-day ceasefire in the city and humanitarian access to residents trapped by the fighting.

But Lavrov appeared to torpedo that move, suggesting Moscow might use its veto to block the resolution.

"The draft resolution... is, for the most part, a provocative step that undermines Russian-American efforts," he told a media conference.

Russia, which says it is not involved in the current offensive in Aleppo, had proposed a renewable truce of only 24 hours and for militant groups such as the al-Nusra Front to be excluded.

Raids kill dozens 

Meanwhile, suspected Russian air strikes have killed at least 46 people in opposition-held parts of Syria, activists say.

On Monday morning, a rebel fighter from the Levantine Front told Reuters that another key district of the rebel-held city, al-Shaar, had effectively fallen to government forces.

In Idlib province, in northwest Syria, at least 26 civilians were killed in suspected Russian strikes on the town of Kafr Nabel, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

An eyewitness told AFP that warplanes hit several places in the town, including a market.

Syrian pro-government forces in the Myessar district in east Aleppo on 4 December 2016 (AFP)

The monitor says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to their type, location, flight patterns and the munitions involved.

The group said 18 people were also killed in suspected Russian strikes on the town of Maaret al-Numan, where an AFP photographer saw rescue workers and residents trying to pull survivors from rubble at a market.

The monitor reported two additional deaths, one in an earlier strike on Maaret al-Numan and another in al-Naqir, also in Idlib.

It also said six civilians, four of them children, had been killed in a government barrel bomb attack on the town of al-Tamanah in the same province.

Moscow says it is targeting "terrorists" and has dismissed reports of civilian casualties in its strikes.

Government advance

State television said late on Sunday that the army had captured the districts of Karm al-Tahan and Myessar, and advanced into the Qadi Askar neighbourhood.

A Syrian boy after an airstrike on Maaret al-Numan in the province of Idlib, on 4 December 2016 (AFP)

The Russian defence ministry said government forces had also taken the district of Karm al-Katurji.

Rebels are increasingly under pressure in the remaining southeastern districts they control.

State news agency SANA said the air force was dropping leaflets over rebel-held areas urging "militants to abandon their weapons and... allow civilians and the sick and wounded to leave".

Damascus says rebels are preventing civilians from leaving the east, and are trying to use them as human shields.

But tens of thousands of residents have fled the east as the army has advanced, with some heading south to remaining rebel territory and others going to areas under government or Kurdish control.

At least 311 civilians, including 42 children, have been killed in east Aleppo since the government assault began, the Observatory says.