Aleppo battle in ‘final phase’
The rebels withdrew from six more districts in the face of advancing government troops, the Britain-based Observatory said. The retreat leaves opposition fighters confined to just a handful of neighborhoods in southeast Aleppo, the largest of them Sukkari and Mashhad. “The battle of Aleppo has reached its end. It is just a matter of a small period of time... it’s a total collapse,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
In the Mashhad neighborhood, residents fleeing the army advance crowded the streets, witnesses said. Displaced civilians - many hungry after fleeing without food - sat on pavements or lay on the street with nowhere else to go, they said. An AFP correspondent in the government-held west of Aleppo said the bombardment of rebel areas could be heard and was among the heaviest in recent days. “The regime is advancing in east Aleppo under gunfire, missiles and shelling,” Bassam Mustafa from the political office of the Nureddin al-Zenki rebel group in Aleppo told reporters. “The fighters (rebels) are retreating under pressure and the situation is very bad,” he said.
State television also aired live footage from inside Salhin district, one of the areas fully retaken yesterday, showing widespread destruction. Buildings were missing entire sections, and roads were littered with rubble and pitted with enormous craters. Terrified residents have poured out of rebel-held neighborhoods as the army advanced since beginning its operation on Nov 15. The Observatory said yesterday another 10,000 people had fled rebel areas in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of those who have left - mostly to government-held territory - to 130,000.
Syria’s rebels seized control of east Aleppo in 2012, a year into an uprising that began with anti-government protests but spiralled into a civil war after a regime crackdown. The war has become a complex multi-front conflict, drawing in proxy powers and jihadists such as the Islamic State group, which on Sunday retook the symbolically important city of Palmyra nine months after being expelled. — AFP