The Dallas Morning News
Syrian civilians flee Aleppo fighting
Thousands of civilians flee as government forces move to split rebel stronghold
Thousands of Syrian civilians fled fighting in Aleppo as government forces moved within a mile of the city’s last rebel stronghold.
BEIRUT — Thousands of Syrian civilians fled fierce fighting in Aleppo Sunday as government forces moved within a mile of slicing the city’s last rebel stronghold in half.
At least 500 people have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded in a 13-day offensive led by President Bashar Assad’s troops on the east side of a city that has taken on huge symbolic importance in the Syrian civil war. Under siege and with no food aid left, half a million civilians are now trapped there. On Sunday, residents said they had nowhere left to run.
“My house is full,” said Bassem, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of retribution from the government. “The floors are packed but no one is sleeping.”
The fall of east Aleppo would devastate rebel ambitions to hold on to a rump state in northern Syria and could hasten the government’s recapture of the entire country.
Assad’s soldiers, supported by Russian- and Iran-backed forces, advanced on the rebel-held districts in a pincer move Sunday, taking the neighborhoods of Jabal Badra and Baadeen in the east and advancing through al-Sakhur in the west.
Their breakthrough had come Saturday with the recapture of Masaken Hanano, Aleppo’s largest rebel-held district. Its fall underscored how the tide has turned for Assad’s forces 51⁄2 years into a war that has killed half a million people and displaced most of Syria’s prewar population. The rebels seemed ascendant when they seized east Aleppo in 2012, boasting that a march on Damascus would be next. Now, they are being bombed and besieged in pockets of land across the country.
A simultaneous advance by Kurdish-led forces Sunday pushed into the Bustan al-Basha neighborhood. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said nearly 1,700 civilians had fled east Aleppo to government-held areas while 2,500 had left for Sheikh Maksoud.
“It is the first exodus of this kind from east Aleppo since 2012,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the Observatory’s director, told Agence France-Presse.
It was unclear how long rebel forces could hold out in the final district connecting their territory north to south. “We are in the process of repelling the onslaught,” said Yasser al-Youssef, a spokesman for the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Brigade, one of the rebel groups.
“All I can see is Assad’s forces advancing,” said Ismail Abdullah, a volunteer with the White Helmets rescue group. “People have been running all day. It’s chaos.”