Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov hopes the situation in Syria's Aleppo will be 'sorted out' by year's end. As civilians die fleeing the ailing city, eyes turn to the Kremlin, which is itself eyeing Trump.
"We need to force these terrorists out in the same way as they need to be forced out in Mosul and in Raqqa," Bogdanov (pictured above with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) told the RIA Novosti news agency.
A senior official in the pro-Damascus military alliance said on Tuesday that Syria and its allies aimed to drive rebels from Aleppo before Donald Trump takes office as US President on January 20.
Russia has been in contact with Trump's team over Syria, the TASS news agency quoted Bogdanov as saying.
Trump has hinted he will pursue a new US policy in Syria, including closer cooperation with Russia against the so-called "Islamic State" - ending support for Western backed rebels he views as radical Islamists.
Syrian government soldiers walk amid rubble of damaged buildings after taking control of al-Sakhour neighborhood in Aleppo
The US has sought in vain for months to work with Russia to implement a sustainable ceasefire among a multitude of armed groups and the Syrian regime, in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian deliveries and open a political dialogue to end the war.
But Russian and Iranian support for Assad has emboldened the regime and changed the situation on the battlefield.
A defeat in Aleppo - Syria's largest city and commercial hub before the war - would be a blow to the rebels' bid to oust Assad.
The fall of Aleppo is likely to strengthen jihadists within the Syrian opposition as any remaining moderate forces move closer to jihadist factions with more military might, in particular the Front for the Conquest of the Levant, formerly the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front, the hardline Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham and other radical factions.
Syria's conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and drawn in world powers including a US-led air coalition fighting the Islamic State group.
Death toll mounts
Eight people - including two children - were killed on Wednesday morning by rebel shelling of government-held districts of Aleppo - which remains divided between a government-held west and rebel-held east.
Pro-government forces recently won their biggest victories in the city for years.
The shells hit the Aadhamiyeh, New Aleppo and Furqan areas, Syrian state news agency SANA said on Wednesday, citing a source in the Aleppo police.
Assad loyalists are backed by Russian airpower and Shiite militas from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. They have seized a third of eastern Aleppo which had been an opposition stronghold since 2012. But beginning in July, these pro-regime forces surrounded the city and cut off supplies in a five-month siege.
Syrian rebels say they will not withdraw from eastern Aleppo.
Meanwhile, government shelling killed 21 civilians - including two children, in an eastern district of Aleppo early on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that dozens more were wounded in the artillery fire on the rebel-held Jubb al-Qubbeh district.
According to the White Helmets, a rescue group in opposition-controlled Syrian territory, the artillery fire hit a group of displaced civilians seeking refuge from other eastern districts.
Flight or fight?
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday that at least 20,000 civilians, many women and children, have fled in the past 48 hours, while a senior government official in Damascus said that some 20,000 fled on Tuesday alone.
Families were reportedly forced to sleep in the streets or in unfurnished apartments left empty by fleeing residents.
More than 50,000 people have been displaced since regime forces began a ferocious offensive on rebels in Aleppo two weeks ago, according to the Observatory.
More than 250 civilians have been killed in the government's assault on east Aleppo since November 15, including nearly 30 children, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The UN Security Council - which has condemned the "descent into hell" being endured by civilians in Aleppo - meets on Wednesday for an emergency session on the city's humanitarian situation, after France and the United Kingdom called for a meeting.
The UN's human rights office said it was concerned over reports that rebel groups were preventing civilians from fleeing the eastern sector, which has been in rebel hands since 2012.
The French UN ambassador Francois Delattre said "France and its partners cannot remain silent in the face of what could be one of the biggest massacres of civilian population since World War II."
A special session of the German Bundestag - the lower house of parliament - was also to be convened Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Aleppo crisis.
Rights group Amnesty International urged Syrian authorities to protect civilians in recaptured areas.
France and Britain, meanwhile, said they would submit to the UN Security Council a resolution for sanctions against Damascus for using chemical weapons.
jbh/kl (AFP, Reuters, dpa)