Syr­ian forces cap­ture more ar­eas in Aleppo

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Bassem Mroue

BEIRUT — Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces and their al­lies cap­tured new ground on the edge of the con­tested north­ern city of Aleppo on Thurs­day, tight­en­ing the siege on rebel-held parts of the city, state me­dia and an ac­tivist group said.

The lat­est push came af­ter pro- gov­ern­ment troops re­cap­tured sev­eral mil­i­tary acad­e­mies over the week­end that they had lost in at­tacks by in­sur­gents a month ago.

The gov­ern­ment ad­vance also en­dan­gers talks be­tween Rus­sia and the United States over a pos­si­ble Aleppo cease-fire. The city, Syria’s largest and once its com­mer­cial hub, has been the fo­cus of fight­ing in re­cent months.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said gov­ern­ment forces backed by al­lied groups, in­clud­ing the Le­banese Hezbol­lah mil­i­tant group, cap­tured the Ra­mouseh neighborhood on the south­ern edge of Aleppo. Syr­ian state news agency SANA quoted an un­named mil­i­tary of­fi­cial as con­firm­ing that pro-gov­ern­ment troops had cap­tured large parts of Ra­mouseh as well as a nearby hill.

Fight­ing con­tin­ued to rage on the south­ern edge of Ra­mouseh, ac­cord­ing to rebel fight­ers, and res­i­dents of the ad­ja­cent op­po­si­tion­held neighborhood of alSukkari re­ported heavy shelling.

The Ob­ser­va­tory re­ported that 40 days of fight­ing in Aleppo has killed nearly 700 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 160 chil­dren.

On Thurs­day, the gov­ern­ment de­nied it had car­ried out a toxic gas at­tack on civil­ians in Aleppo, two days af­ter of­fi­cials and rescuers in rebel-held parts of the city re­ported a sus­pected A mar­ket stands de­serted in a rebel-held neighborhood of the di­vided Syr­ian city of Aleppo on Thurs­day. chlo­rine gas at­tack by gov­ern­ment he­li­copters. They said two peo­ple died and at least 70 suf­fered breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

In a sign of the deep­en­ing con­flict in Aleppo, Capt. Ab­del-Raz­zak Ab­del-Salam, a spokesman for the rebel group Nour el-Din el-Zinki, said rebel fight­ers re­sumed shelling the Castello road, the gov­ern­ment-cap­tured high­way that was con­sid­ered in in­ter­na­tional talks as a po­ten­tial cor­ri­dor for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

The rebels had been ar­gu­ing that Ra­mouseh, when they con­trolled it, could be an al­ter­na­tive route for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. But now it is un­der gov­ern­ment con­trol.

Talks be­tween Moscow and Washington have been bogged down over ways to cre­ate a last­ing a cease-fire in Aleppo, among other is­sues.

Ab­del-Salam said that even while the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and its ally Rus­sia were ne­go­ti­at­ing with the U.S. on a cease-fire in Aleppo they were plot­ting a “new be­trayal” of be­sieged neigh­bor­hoods, vi­o­lat­ing the spirit of the talks aimed at al­low­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid into op­po­si­tion dis­tricts. He said that “events have over­taken” cease-fire talks. “All op­tions are open,” in­clud­ing fight­ing the gov­ern- ment on new fronts, he added.

In Turkey, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said Kur­dish fight­ers in north­ern Syria opened fire at Turk­ish bor­der guards, prompt­ing re­tal­ia­tory fire.

The of­fi­cials said the fight­ers fired at the sol­diers with au­to­matic ri­fles from the area of Afrin, which is con­trolled by Syr­ian Kur­dish mili­tia, late Wed­nes­day. They said the sol­diers re­sponded with au­to­matic fire “within the right to self­de­fense.” The of­fi­cials pro­vided the in­for­ma­tion Thurs­day on con­di­tion of anonymity, in line with gov­ern­ment rules.

The Kur­dish-af­fil­i­ated Hawar news agency said six Kur­dish fight­ers were killed.

Turkey sent tanks and troops into Syria last month to drive Is­lamic State mil­i­tants away from the bor­der and to halt the ad­vance of the U.S.-backed pre­dom­i­nantly Kur­dish mili­tia. Ankara views the Syr­ian Kur­dish forces as a ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tion be­cause of links to Turkey’s out­lawed Kur­dish rebels.

Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said the Syria op­er­a­tion will con­tinue un­til the bor­der re­gion and the Man­bij pocket, an area east of the Euphrates River, is se­cured.

THAER MO­HAMMED/GETTY-AFP

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