Civilians flee as Syrian forces advance
SYRIAN government forces pushed deeper into rebel-held eastern Aleppo forcing civilians to flee as the regime pressed an assault to recapture the entire city.
Military aircraft dropped leaflets over east Aleppo on November 22, urging rebels to distribute food to civilians, leave the area and allow residents to do so too.
The regime pounded east Aleppo with air strikes and barrel bombs as ground troops advanced in the key eastern district of Masaken Hanano, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A week into the latest round of fighting for the city, the regime controls around a third of the district, the Observatory said.
The area has been shelled heavily during the war, and many residents had already fled, but the latest fighting prompted even the last holdouts to leave.
Milad Shahabi, a member of the local council, told AFP that residents were fleeing to southern parts of the opposition-controlled east.
Masaken Hanano was the first Aleppo district to fall to rebels in 2012, and it is strategically vital.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said that if regime forces manage to take the district they will be able to “cut off the northern parts of rebel-held Aleppo from the rest of the opposition-held districts”.
At least 143 civilians, including 19 children, have been killed in the city’s east since the latest assault began on November 15, according to the Britain-based monitor.
It said residents of eastern districts had suffered from “suffocation” after four barrel bomb attacks and that medical officials suspected a chlorine gas attack.
The Organisation for the Prohibition for Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on November 22 that the regime’s key backer Russia had offered it “samples” relating to an alleged chemical attack in Aleppo.
The global watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons is probing more than 20 reports of the use of toxic arms in Syria since August.
Government troops, backed by Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group and Russian and Iranian forces, are battling rebels on several fronts inside opposition-held districts.
Iran’s veterans’ affairs office said that more than 1000 combatants sent from Iran to fight in support of President Bashar al-Assad have been killed in the conflict.
Tehran has sent military advisers, as well as fighters recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to work with Assad’s forces.
The renewed fighting comes amid international concern for the fate of more than 250,000 civilians trapped in rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
Despite searing international criticism, there is little sign that the government advance will be halted.
Russia accused the UN’s Syria envoy of torpedoing a Security Council resolution to revive peace talks between the regime and opposition.
“The UN has been sabotaging the resolution for more than six months,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in televised remarks. –