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Syria regime promises 'final phase' in Aleppo battle Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Syria regime promises 'final phase' in Aleppo battle

The army has captured the large Sheikh Saeed district in southeast Aleppo [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 December, 2016

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Syrian regime forces have teken the large rebel-held district of Sheikh Saeed in Aleppo as part of a major offensive to win Syria's second city.

The Syrian regime captured a major district of Aleppo from rebel fighters, now confined to a small pocket of their former bastion in the city's east.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces held more than 90 percent of the one-time opposition stronghold, a monitor said, and appeared on the verge of retaking the whole city.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the army has captured the large Sheikh Saeed district in south-east Aleppo, leaving only two neighbourhoods under opposition control.

"The areas still under opposition control are very small, and they could fall at any moment," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the UK-based monitoring group.

"The battle for Aleppo has begun to enter the final phase," he said.

Syrian official media confirmed the army had recaptured Sheikh Saeed, with state television showing what it said was live footage from the neighbourhood.

Overnight and into Monday morning, regime war planes and artillery pounded the remaining rebel-held territory in the east of the city.

The fall of Aleppo would deal rebels their worst blow since the beginning of Syria's conflict in 2011, and leave the government in control of the country's five major cities.

They had seized control of East Aleppo in 2012, a year into an uprising that began with anti-government protests but spiralled into a civil war after a regime crackdown.

Thousands flee

Terrified residents have poured out of rebel-held neighbourhoods as the army advanced since beginning its operation on 15 November.

Khaled Khatib, the media coordinator for the Syrian civil defence, told The New Arab that the situation in Aleppo was "catastrophic".

Earlier on Monday, the Observatory said another 10,000 people had fled rebel areas in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of those who have left - mostly to government-held territory - to 130,000.

The areas still under opposition control are very small, and they could fall at any moment.
- Rami Abdel Rahman

On Sunday alone, state news agency SANA said, 8,000 people fled rebel districts through regime-run crossings.

It said approximately half were transferred to temporary shelters, while the rest were staying with relatives in west Aleppo.

The UN children's agency said on Sunday that all children in Aleppo were suffering from trauma.

"I have never seen in my life such a dramatic situation (as) what is happening to children in Aleppo," said Radoslaw Rzehak, UNICEF's field office head inside the devastated city.

The regime assault on Aleppo has killed at least 413 civilians since mid-November, according to the Observatory, while another 139 civilians have been killed in rebel fire on the west of the city in the same period.

Palmyra

The war has become a complex multi-front conflict, drawing in proxy powers and extremists like the Islamic State group, which on Sunday overran the city of Palmyra nine months after being expelled.

IS began a new offensive in the desert east of Homs province last week, seizing government positions and oil fields before advancing on Palmyra.

It was briefly forced back from the city early on Sunday, after heavy Russian airstrikes and the arrival of Syrian troop reinforcements.

But despite the efforts, the Observatory said on Sunday afternoon that the group had recaptured all of the city.

IS held Palmyra between May 2015 and March 2016, carrying out a campaign of destruction against ancient ruins in the city that are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

More than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria's war, and over half the country displaced.

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