Syrian army announces major advance in Aleppo
BEIRUTThe Syrian army and its allies announced the capture of a swathe of eastern Aleppo from rebels on Nov. 28 in an accelerating attack that threatens to crush the opposition in its most important urban stronghold.
Rebels denied that the army had taken the strategically vital Sakhour area which - if it fell - would mean rebel-held territory in the eastern part of the city was split in two.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government had taken Sakhour, and rebels had lost control of more than a third of eastern Aleppo in recent days, according to Reuters.
Thousands of residents were reported to have fled. A rebel fighter reached by Reuters said there was “extreme, extreme, extreme pressure” on the insurgents there.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the areas captured by Syrian government troops include 10 neighborhoods and over 3,000 buildings in the past few days, The Associated Press reported. The ministry added in a statement that more than 100 rebels have laid down their arms and exited the Syrian city’s eastern suburbs.
Capturing eastern Aleppo would be the biggest victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the uprising against him in 2011, giving him control of the whole city.
For Assad, taking back Aleppo would shore up his grip over the main urban centers of western Syria where he and his allies have focused their firepower even as much of the rest of the country has slipped from their grip.
It would also be seen as a victory for his allies, Russia and Iran, which have outmaneuvered the West and Assad’s regional enemies through direct military intervention.
With military backing from the Russian air force, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Assad has gradually closed in on eastern Aleppo this year.
Citing a military source, Syrian state TV said the army and its allies had seized the entire Sakhour area and were working to clear it of mines. Backed by allied militiamen, the army has been advancing into eastern Aleppo from the northeast in recent days, and made significant gains over the weekend.
A military news service run by Hezbollah declared the northern portion of eastern Aleppo was now under government control. Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman called it the biggest defeat for the opposition in Aleppo since 2012.
Abdulrahman said part of the area had been seized by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which is hostile to the rebels in eastern Aleppo and had advanced into the rebel-held territory from the Kurdish-controlled Sheikh Maqsoud district.
Damascus and its allies have steadily closed in on rebel-held eastern Aleppo this year, first cutting off the most direct route to nearby Turkey before encircling it from the west and then beginning a fierce assault in September.
While some of the rebels in Aleppo have received support from states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States during the war, they say their foreign backers have failed them as Assad and his allies unleash enormous firepower.
“There is great, great pressure on the fighters in Aleppo and there is very ferocious shelling and heavy attrition of people and ammunition,” said the rebel fighter. “God willing the fighters will hold on and be able to resist the regime.”
The fighting has forced thousands of residents of eastern Aleppo to flee. Some have gone to the Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsoud district, others have gone over to government territory, and others have moved deeper into remaining rebel-held areas.