Syrian army retakes over half of rebel east Aleppo
Syria’s army advanced deeper into east Aleppo, where by yesterday it controlled more than half of the former rebel stronghold after a fierce assault that has sparked an international outcry. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled eastern neighborhoods of the battered city since President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime began its latest offensive in mid-November. Overnight, government troops and allied forces seized the district of Tariq Al-Bab where heavy fighting had raged a day earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Yesterday, regime forces also secured a zone around the road from regime-held western Aleppo to the international airport just east of the city, taking two whole districts while fighting continued in a third. The government has now recaptured around 60 percent of eastern parts of the city that the rebels overran in mid2012, the monitor said. The advance opens the road leading from the government-controlled west of the city to the international airport just outside Aleppo to the east, which is also held by the regime. It has prompted more civilians to flee, heading either further south into remaining rebel-held districts or crossing into areas under regime or Kurdish control.
Assad’s forces have made swift gains in east Aleppo, and its loss would be the biggest blow yet to Syria’s opposition in the more than five-year-old war. More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict started with anti-government protests in March 2011, and over half the country’s population has been displaced. The government has trumpeted its advances, and state television yesterday showed buses full of residents going from west Aleppo back to their homes in neighborhoods retaken by the army.
More than 310 civilians have been killed in the government’s assault on east Aleppo since November 15, the Britain-based Observatory says. Nearly 69 civilians have been killed in the same period by rebel fire on west Aleppo, including nine on Friday, it says. Rebels have struggled to hold back government ground forces, who have advanced backed by air strikes, barrel bombs and artillery fire. On Friday, they rolled back some regime gains in the Sheikh Saeed district on Aleppo’s southeastern outskirts, but it was unclear how long they could hold that line.
ALEPPO: A general view taken from the government-held side of the city shows smoke billowing during fighting between Syrian regime forces and rebel fighters in east Aleppo yesterday.