Thou­sands flee regime ad­vance in Aleppo

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

ALEPPO: Thou­sands of civil­ians have fled rebel-held east Aleppo af­ter govern­ment forces, de­ter­mined to re­take all of Syria’s sec­ond city, seized its largest re­bel­con­trolled dis­trict and ad­vanced into two other ar­eas. The cap­ture on Satur­day of Masaken Hanano - which had been the big­gest rebel-held dis­trict of Aleppo was a ma­jor break­through in a 13-day regime of­fen­sive to re­take the en­tire city. Yes­ter­day, regime forces also took con­trol of two neigh­bor­ing ar­eas, Ja­bal Badra and Baadeen, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory of Hu­man Rights said.

“The army’s rapid ad­vance is due to its strat­egy of at­tack­ing east Aleppo on sev­eral fronts, weak­en­ing the rebels,” Ob­ser­va­tory chief Rami Ab­del Rah­man said. The regime gains came as its air­craft pounded rebel po­si­tions and amid heavy clashes be­tween the op­po­si­tion and forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar AlAs­sad. Masaken Hanano was the first dis­trict the rebels took in the sum­mer of 2012 in a move that di­vided the city into a rebel-held east and a regime­con­trolled west.

Around 250,000 civil­ians trapped un­der govern­ment siege for months in the east have faced se­ri­ous food and fuel short­ages. The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory said nearly 1,700 civil­ians had fled over the past 24 hours to govern­ment-held parts of western Aleppo and an­other 2,500 to the Kur­dish-con­trolled north­ern dis­trict of Sheikh Mak­soud. “It is the first ex­o­dus of this kind from east Aleppo since 2012,” Ab­del Rah­man said.

Syr­ian state tele­vi­sion broad­cast images of a crowd of civil­ians in­clud­ing women and chil­dren gath­ered around green buses that it said had come to pick them up in Masaken Hanano. One woman was shown push­ing a stroller and many others car­ried plas­tic bags on their heads while bom­bard­ment could be heard in the dis­tance. Yasser Al-Youssef, from the rebel group Nured­din Al-Zinki, said that op­po­si­tion fight­ers were con­sol­i­dat­ing their po­si­tions in Sakhur. “We are strength­en­ing our po­si­tions to de­fend the city and res­i­dents, but the air­craft are de­stroy­ing ev­ery­thing me­thod­i­cally, area by area,” he said, re­fer­ring to a regime cam­paign of air strikes on the city.

Sakhur lies on a stretch of just 1.5 km be­tween west Aleppo and Masaken Hanano, now both con­trolled by the regime. If the regime did man­age to take con­trol of Sakhur, east Aleppo would be split in two from north to south, deal­ing a fur­ther blow to the armed op­po­si­tion. Pro-govern­ment me­dia re­ported that govern­ment forces con­tin­ued their ad­vance yes­ter­day.

The lat­est regime push comes af­ter days of in­tense bom­bard­ment on the east, which has been pounded with air strikes, shells and bar­rel bombs. On Satur­day, dozens of fam­i­lies fled Sakhur and Haidariya as regime raids and ar­tillery fire killed at least 18 civil­ians in sev­eral dis­tricts, the Bri­tain-based Ob­ser­va­tory said. That took to 219 the over­all num­ber of civil­ians killed, in­clud­ing 27 chil­dren, since the govern­ment launched its lat­est as­sault on east Aleppo on Novem­ber 15. Rebel forces also in­ten­si­fied rocket at­tacks on western dis­tricts overnight, killing at least four civil­ians and wound­ing dozens, the Ob­ser­va­tory said. Such at­tacks have killed a to­tal of 27 civil­ians since the of­fen­sive be­gan, among them 11 chil­dren. The United Na­tions has a plan to de­liver aid to Aleppo and evac­u­ate the sick and wounded, which rebel fac­tions have ap­proved but which Da­m­as­cus has not yet agreed. Guar­an­tees are also needed from regime ally Rus­sia.

Once a com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial hub, Aleppo has seen some of the worst fight­ing in Syria’s five-and-a-half-year war. The con­flict broke out in 2011 with the bru­tal re­pres­sion of anti-govern­ment protests and has since evolved into a com­plex war in­volv­ing dif­fer­ent fac­tions and for­eign pow­ers. Yes­ter­day, the Turk­ish army said that 22 pro-Ankara Syr­ian rebels were hit by a chem­i­cal gas at­tack from Is­lamic State group ji­hadists in north­ern Syria.

The Turk­ish army is back­ing the Syr­ian fight­ers in an un­prece­dented cross-bor­der op­er­a­tion it says is tar­get­ing both IS and the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) mili­tia, which it con­sid­ers to be a “ter­ror­ist” group. The YPG is a key com­po­nent of a US-backed ArabKur­dish al­liance that is fight­ing to oust IS from its de facto Syria cap­i­tal of Raqqa, af­ter the ji­hadist group over­ran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014. Syria’s war has killed more than 300,000 peo­ple and dis­placed more than half the pop­u­la­tion. — AFP

ALEPPO: Syr­ian dis­placed fam­i­lies ar­rive at a makeshift camp yes­ter­day in the govern­ment-held dis­trict of Ji­breen. — AFP

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