Executive Summary for December 13th

We review the key developments in Syria, including rebel defenses falling as the Syrian government closes in to retake all of Aleppo, a toxic gas attack in Hama killing 53 people and reports that Austin Tice, an American journalist held captive in Syria, is still alive.

Published on Dec. 13, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Syrian Government and Allied Forces Close in on Aleppo, Civilians Trapped, U.N. ‘Alarmed’

The Syrian government is in the “last moments before declaring victory” in Aleppo according to the Syrian military (on Monday), as government bombardment continued on remaining rebel districts, Reuters reported.

“The battle in eastern Aleppo should end quickly. They (rebels) don’t have much time. They either have to surrender or die,” said Lieutenant General Zaid al-Saleh, head of the government’s Aleppo security committee.

Rebels retreated from all neighborhoods east of the Aleppo river on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The battle for Aleppo has reached its end, said SOHR director Rami Abdulrahman.

The loss of Aleppo will not weaken the will of the opposition, said Riad Hijab, Syria’s chief opposition coordinator.

“If Assad and his allies think that a military advance in certain quarters of Aleppo will signify that we make concessions, then (I say) that will not happen,” Hijab said.

A rebel source told Reuters that they may open new front lines. More than 2,200 rebels have surrendered, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Tens of thousands of residents have fled their homes, with the Syrian Civil Defense first responder group urging safe passage for the remaining civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo. Eastern Aleppo had an estimated 250,000 resident population before the recent offensive.

Government forces are allegedly executing people with ties to rebel groups, media activists from the Aleppo Media Center told CNN. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is alarmed, his spokesperson said, by alleged reports of atrocities against civilians.

“The Gov’ts of Syria & Russia are accountable for any and all atrocities that the victorious militias in Aleppo are now committing!,” U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland wrote on Twitter.

Aided by Lebanese and Iraqi militias backed by Iranian and Russian warplanes, the government’s four-week offensive has killed at least 415 civilians in rebel-held areas of Aleppo, according to SOHR. Rebel shelling has killed at least 130 civilians in government-held neighborhoods in the same period. Once Syria’s economic and cultural hub, Aleppo was divided into a government-held west and rebel-controlled east in 2012.

At Least 53 Dead in Alleged Toxic Gas Attack on Eastern Hama Countryside

At least 53 people were killed in an alleged toxic gas attack in airstrikes on Hama province on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The warplanes targeted Uqayribat and other villages in the eastern Hama countryside, which are under control of the so-called Islamic State. Twenty of the casualties were women and children, SOHR said.

Documented deaths showed signs of suffocation with no trace of fractures or bleeding, local activists told SOHR.

High Confidence That American Journalist Held Captive in Syria Is Still Alive

The White House has “high confidence” that American journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in Syria, is still alive, CNN reported.

Tice disappeared in August 2012 while reporting near Damascus, and is the only American journalist still held captive in Syria according to Reporters Without Borders.

White House hostage envoy James O’Brien delivered “positive, yet cautious news,” said Sen. John Cornyn from Texas.

A short video of Tice appeared online five weeks after his disappearance, showing him in the captivity of alleged jihadists. There has been no public news of Tice since.

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