Russia and the United States will continue talks on Aleppo and evacuation of civilians after the US secretary of state and his Russian counterpart discussed the situation in the war-torn Syrian city.
Aleppo has been divided between government-controlled neighbourhoods in the city’s west and rebel-held areas in the east since 2012.
The Syrian government and its allied forces now control at least three-quarters of the east because of a massive military assault on the besieged area.
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Earlier on Thursday, Russian media quoted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying the Syrian army had halted its attacks on Aleppo to allow for the evacuation of civilians, but there was no confirmation from the UN or the Syrian government.
John Kerry and Lavrov held brief meetings on Wednesday and Thursday on the sidelines of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference in Hamburg.
“They [John Kerry and Lavrov] agreed to continue discussions about establishing a framework for a ceasefire that will allow the delivery of aid, desperately needed humanitarian aid, as well as the safe departure of those who wish to leave the city,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told a briefing.
On Wednesday, government forces scored an important victory when the rebels retreated from the Old City, the historic heart of Aleppo.
They extended their advances later in the day, seizing the Bab al-Nayrab, Al-Maadi and Salhin neighbourhoods, according to Syrian state media.
“It’s true that Aleppo will be a win for us, but let’s be realistic – it won’t mean the end of the war in Syria,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the al-Watan newspaper. “But it will be a huge step towards this end.”
While rebels have vowed to continue fighting, the battle is complicated by tens of thousands of fearful civilians trapped in the remaining portions of the rebel-held east.
And as winter sets in, siege conditions are increasingly desperate, exacerbated by increasing numbers of displaced residents and food and water shortages.
Brita Haji Hassan, president of the Aleppo local council, said on Thursday more than 800 people have been killed and 3,000-3,500 wounded in war-devastated eastern Aleppo in the past 26 days.
“Today 150,000 people are threatened with extermination. We are calling for a halt to the bombing and guarantees of safe passage of all,” Hassan said during a trip to Geneva.
Nearly 150 civilians, most disabled or in need of medical care, were evacuated overnight from a hospital in Aleppo’s Old City, the first major evacuation from the eastern sector, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday.
Among those evacuated from Dar al-Safaa hospital in the Old City – taken over by Syrian government forces on Tuesday – 118 patients were taken to three hospitals in the west of Aleppo and 30 people were taken to shelters, also in the west of the city, the ICRC said in a statement.
The evacuation was conducted jointly with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, it added.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek said: “The people were basically trapped there [in recent days].”
“The fighting kind of slowed down starting from yesterday afternoon,” he continued, adding “it was too dangerous” to carry out an evacuation earlier.
“It’s first and utmost about the safety of those people [being evacuated] and our priority is to ensure that they will be helped … and safely transported to a safer place.”
Since it began in March 2011, the war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people, made more than half of Syrians homeless, and created the world’s worst refugee crisis.
Assad has ruled out the possibility of a negotiated ceasefire with rebel forces.