In major blow, rebels lose northeast Aleppo
Syria’s rebels lost all of the northern neighborhoods of their stronghold in east Aleppo yesterday, as the army made significant advances in its offensive to recapture the entire city. The regime gains have prompted an exodus of thousands of desperate civilians, some fleeing to districts held by the government or Kurdish forces, others heading south into areas still under opposition control.
“The situation is disastrous,” said Ibrahim Abu Al-Leith, a spokesman for the White Helmets rescue group in the Ansari neighborhood. “There is mass displacement and morale is in the gutter,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “People are sleeping in the streets. They don’t have anything to eat or drink, but neither do we,” he told AFP.
The loss of eastern Aleppo would be a potentially devastating blow to Syria’s rebels, who seized the area in 2012. The opposition has steadily lost territory since Russia began an intervention to bolster President Bashar Al-Assad in Sept 2015. Yesterday, government forces seized the Sakhur, Haydariya and Sheikh Khodr districts, and Kurdish fighters took the Sheikh Fares neighborhood from rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. “This is their (the rebels’) worst defeat since they seized half the city in 2012,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. The advances left all of northeast Aleppo under government control.
On Sunday night, the Observatory said nearly 10,000 civilians had fled the east, with around 6,000 moving to the Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsud neighborhood and 4,000 to government-held west Aleppo. State television showed footage of families disembarking from the green coaches used to transport civilians and surrendering rebels from retaken territory. Kurdish officials published a video they said showed civilians crossing a field to Sheikh Maqsud, where local forces helped people lift baggage over a makeshift berm as they arrived.
Syria’s Kurds are officially aligned with neither the government nor the rebels, but the opposition views them as effectively allied with the regime in its bid to recapture Aleppo city. Civilians were also fleeing south to the remaining rebel-held
districts with little more than the clothes they wore, an AFP correspondent said. He said dozens of families arrived in southern Aleppo overnight, and they were being housed in empty buildings left behind by earlier waves of fleeing residents.
People in southern neighborhoods were donating blankets and other items to the new arrivals, who had travelled on foot, exhausted, cold and hungry. The United Nations said it was “deeply concerned” about the plight of civilians in the east, which has been besieged for more than four months, with international aid exhausted and food stocks desperately low. The UN has appealed for access to the east many times, but has failed to secure the necessary guarantees to enable aid deliveries.
The government advances mean the regime now controls at least a third of eastern Aleppo, just under two weeks into its renewed bid to recapture the city. State television said the army had captured the key Suleiman Al-Halabi water pumping station, which controls supply to government-held west Aleppo and has periodically been shut by rebels. And state news agency SANA said two people had been killed in rebel fire on western Aleppo.
Yasser Youssef, an official from the Nureddin Al-Zinki rebel group, said the government’s advance was the result of support from Moscow and Tehran, both staunch allies of Damascus. “For all the past years, we have resisted with the primitive means we have had, but today we’re resisting Iran and Russia,” he said. The assault has been waged with heavy air strikes, barrel bomb attacks and artillery fire that has killed at least 225 civilians, including 27 children, in east Aleppo, according to the Observatory.
Rebel fire into the government-held west has also killed at least 27 civilians, among them 11 children, since Nov 15, the monitor says. Syria’s Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, said the next stage of the operation would be “to divide the remaining (rebelheld) area into... districts that will be easily controlled and to capture them successively”. Fabrice Balanche, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the regime retaking east Aleppo “would be a turning point” as it would then hold “the five largest cities in Syria” including the capital. — AFP
KUWAIT: A picture taken from Hamra Tower, the highest building in Kuwait, shows Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) aerobatic team The Red Arrows performing near the Kuwait Towers during a show yesterday. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat (See Page 4)
ALEPPO: Syrian pro-government forces walk amidst heavy destruction in the Bustan Al-Basha neighborhood yesterday.— AFP