Syria army retakes over half of rebel east Aleppo

Syria army retakes over half of rebel east Aleppo

ALEPPO – Agence France Presse
Syria army retakes over half of rebel east Aleppo

A general view taken from the Syrian government-held side shows Aleppo's Bustan al-Basha district on Dec 3. / AFP Photo

Syria's army advanced overnight deeper into east Aleppo where it now controls more than half of the former rebel stronghold after a fierce assault that has sparked an international outcry.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled eastern neighborhoods of the battered city since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime began its latest offensive in mid-November.

Overnight, government troops and allied forces seized the district of Tariq al-Bab where heavy fighting had raged a day earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Dec. 3.

The government has now recaptured around 60 percent of eastern parts of the city that the rebels overran in mid-2012, according to the Britain-based monitor.

The advance opens the road leading from the government-controlled west of the city to the international airport just outside Aleppo to the east, which is also held by the regime.

And it has prompted more civilians to flee, heading either further south into remaining rebel-held districts or crossing into government-held territory or areas under Kurdish control.

Assad's forces have made swift gains in east Aleppo, and its loss would be the biggest blow yet to Syria's opposition in the more than five-year-old war.

More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict started with anti-government protests in March 2011, and over half the country's population has been displaced.

The government has trumpeted its advances, and state television on Dec. 3 showed buses full of residents going from west Aleppo back to their homes in neighborhoods retaken by the army.

More than 300 civilians have been killed in the government's assault on east Aleppo since Nov. 15, according to the Observatory.

The monitor says nearly 65 civilians have been killed in the same period by rebel fire on government-held west Aleppo, including nine on Dec. 2.

Iran and Russia reaffirm alliance in Syria war

Meanwhile, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Dec. 3 that Tehran and Moscow will continue to cooperate in the Syrian war "until the ultimate goal of eradicating terrorism and restoring peace and full security to the region is achieved."

The comment was delivered in a meeting in Tehran between Rouhani and Russia's special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported, according to The Associated Press.

In the meeting, Rouhani stressed that the Syrian situation can only be resolved through political dialogue and with full respect for the will of the Syrian people, who he said are the main and ultimate decision makers on the future of the country, according to IRNA.