Syria war: Army pushes deeper into rebel-held Aleppo

Syria war: Army pushes deeper into rebel-held Aleppo

Aleppo residents at a camp in the government-held part of the city on 27 November 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionSome 4,000 civilians are reported to have fled eastern Aleppo in the last few hours

Syrian government forces have retaken a second rebel-held district in eastern Aleppo, as thousands of civilians flee.

The army said it had “fully recaptured” Jabal Badro, a day after seizing Hanano district. A monitoring group said a third district had also been taken.

Analysts say there is a strong chance the army could cut off the northern part of the rebel stronghold from its southern part.

Many civilians are reportedly trying to enter government-held western Aleppo.

The Syrian army said it had helped 1,500 people to flee, while Russian news agencies said some 900 civilians – including 119 children – had left Jabal Badro alone before the troops moved in.

A further 2,500 people have fled to a Kurdish-controlled district in the north of the city, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports.

Map of areas rebel-held and government controlled areas in Aleppo

One man left Hanano on Saturday, telling Reuters news agency it was “because of the bombardment from the Syrian army during the advance, and the chlorine gas”.

He was waiting with his wife, mother and three children at a minibus stop, hoping to travel on to the west of the city.

Analysis: By Sebastian Usher, BBC’s Arab Affairs Editor

This is the biggest blow so far to rebels in Aleppo. They seem to be losing ground quickly to pro-government forces attacking them from the east.

The loss of Hanano was a strategic victory for President Assad’s forces – but also a symbolic one as it was the first district rebels seized in Aleppo in 2012.

The government’s aim seems to be to cut the rebel-held area in two at its narrowest point. There is heavy fighting in the Sakhour district. If the rebels lose it, the army will have achieved this objective.

The fighting has set off a wave of civilians seeking refuge not only in other rebel areas, but also on the government side.

Syrian media quoted the army as saying it had seized Jabal Badro and had now entered neighbouring Sakhour.

The Observatory said another district, Baadeen, had also fallen although this has not been confirmed.

Some 275,000 people are believed to remain in eastern Aleppo, where food and medical supplies have all but run out.

The Syrian army’s offensive to retake eastern Aleppo is now into its 13th day.

Around 219 civilians, including 27 children, have been killed in the assault so far, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Pro-government forces in Hanano district in eastern Aleppo on 27 November 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionPro-government forces walk through Hanano district which fell to them on Saturday

Retaking all of Aleppo would be a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after five years of conflict.

Once Syria’s commercial and industrial hub, Aleppo has been divided roughly in two since 2012, with the government controlling the west and rebels the east.

In the past year, Syrian troops have broken the deadlock with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes.

Russia says its air force is active in other parts of the country, but not operating over Aleppo.

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