In major blow, rebels lose north­east Aleppo

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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