Government forces tighten grip on Aleppo
IS re-enters Syria’s ancient desert city of Palmyra after being driven out 8 months ago
The Syrian army tightened its grip on rebels besieged in Aleppo with thousands of civilians but suffered a setback as jihadists retook much of the ancient city of Palmyra.
Air strikes pummelled the shrinking rebel enclave in east Aleppo as Western powers meeting in Paris called for peace talks to resume and for civilians to be allowed to leave Aleppo, where tens of thousands have already fled the offensive.
The diplomatic flurry came as a US-backed alliance announced it would launch the second phase of its battle for the Islamic State group’s de facto Syrian capital of Raqa further east.
Washington announced it was sending an additional 200 troops to support that offensive against IS.
Aleppo has witnessed some of the most brutal violence of Syria’s nearly six-year war.
In less than a month, forces loyal to the Syrian government have overrun around 85 percent of east Aleppo, a rebel stronghold since 2012.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said the world is watching “the last steps” in the Aleppo battle and evacuating civilians must be a priority.
A monitoring group said on Sunday more than 10,000 people had fled rebel-held areas of the battleground city since midnight (local time).
“They fled toward government-held areas in west Aleppo,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A resident in the city’s southeast told AFP that he saw large crowds of people fleeing during the night towards government-held districts in west Aleppo.
An AFP correspondent in west Aleppo said that heavy bombardment of the east was heard through the night, and that it was so intense that it rattled windows in western districts.
With the fighting intensifying on Saturday after a brief respite, a UN General Assembly resolution demanded an immediate cease fire and urgent aid deliveries.
But both Moscow and Damascus have rejected talk of a cease fire without a rebel withdrawal — a demand that opposition refused.
After meeting opposition representatives on Saturday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the opposition was willing to resume peace talks “without pre-conditions”.
However, a diplomatic source told AFP the opposition required a political transition in Syria before it would agree to take part. groups have
‘No military solution’
“There can be no military solution in Syria,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in Paris, urging “a return to a political process with the credibility necessary for all parties to commit to an end to all the fighting”.
The fall of east Aleppo would be the biggest blow for the rebels since the war began in 2011.
It began as a protest movement but has since evolved into an all-out war that has seen jihadists such as IS rise to prominence.
IS re-entered Syria’s famed ancient desert city of Palmyra on Saturday after being driven out eight months ago, the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“After a quick advance, IS now controls most of the city of Palmyra except the southern part,” he said.
“The airport which is outside the city ( just to the east) is now surrounded by jihadists.”
Syrian and Russian warplanes were in action, “but the problem is that there are not enough Syrian forces in the city”, he said, adding that Russian air strikes on Palmyra increased in the evening.
At least 100 members of pro-government force members have been killed by IS in and around Palmyra since Thursday, the Observatory said.
In May last year, IS seized several towns in Homs province including Palmyra, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
They caused extensive damage to many ancient sites in Palmyra before being ousted in March by Syrian government forces.
The airport which is outside the city is now surrounded by jihadists.” Rami Abdel Rahman, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
A boy pulls a cart with water containers in a rebel-held and besieged area of Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday.