Thursday 22 August 2019

Syrian troops seize major control of eastern Aleppo

A Syrian army soldier places a Syrian national flag during a battle with rebel fighters at the Ramouseh front line, east of Aleppo (AP)
A Syrian army soldier places a Syrian national flag during a battle with rebel fighters at the Ramouseh front line, east of Aleppo (AP)

Syria's military says it has gained control of 98% of eastern Aleppo, leaving only a tiny enclave packed with rebels and civilians.

The military statement said pro-government forces have seized control of al-Fardous, one of the largest neighbourhoods in eastern Aleppo - which has been held by the rebels since 2012.

Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - an opposition-run monitoring group, said that the fighting is ongoing in the district.

Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes and militias from across the region launched a wide-scale offensive on eastern Aleppo earlier this month and are on the verge of driving the rebels from the city.

Doing so would hand President Bashar Assad his greatest victory yet in the five-year civil war.

A Syrian rebel spokesman said opposition fighters are retreating in eastern Aleppo under intense government fire that is putting thousands of civilians at risk, calling the collapse "terrifying".

The military statement came hours after Syrian forces, aided by Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, took Sheik Saeed, one of the largest neighbourhoods in the southern part of the rebel territory, tightening the noose on the enclave.

"The situation is very, very critical," said Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence.

"The military took many areas and we are now squeezed." Mr Al-Haj had been on the move to find a place to keep him and his family away from the clashes and possible government capture.

Bassam Haj Mustafa, a senior member of the rebel Nour el-Din el-Zinki group who is in contact with fighters inside the city, said the fighters are doing "their best to defend what is left".

"The collapse is terrifying," he said in a message to reporters.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled to government-held western Aleppo since the offensive began last month. But tens of thousands remain trapped in the ever-shrinking eastern enclave.

A rebel fighter from inside Aleppo said the fall of Sheik Saeed means the fall of the enclave's only mill and grains warehouse, which leaves the territory without access to bread or flour.

Most of the remaining civilians have now gathered in two or three neighbourhoods, packing thousands in a small space and threatening large casualty tolls in any new attack, he said.

A Turkey-based Syrian organisation that supported a number of medical facilities and agricultural projects in Aleppo said it was terminating all its activities in the besieged enclave because all of its eight ambulances have been destroyed.

The Shafak organisation said 47 of its 57 staff are stuck in areas still under rebel control and that it has lost communication with most of them.

The group ran a UN-funded primary health care facility in al-Fardous before it was captured by the government, along with Shafak's warehouses elsewhere in eastern Aleppo that stored fuel and medical supplies.

The offensive to retake rebel-held eastern Aleppo, which began on November 26, followed an intensive aerial bombing campaign that knocked out most of the eastern sector's medical facilities, targeted civil defence and municipal vehicles and blocked roads with rubble.

The eastern Aleppo rebel enclave was cut off from outside aid since July by a government siege.


Meanwhile, a n administrator at the last functioning clinic in Aleppo's collapsing rebel-held enclave says he and other medical staff are taking cover in a shelter as Syrian troops move in.

Mohammed Abu Rajab said in an exchange of text messages that he does not know what is happening outside the building.

He says thousands of people are trapped in the rapidly shrinking rebel stronghold.

He says the large number of wounded overwhelmed the clinic and that the dead and wounded are now being left in the streets.

PA Media

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