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article imageSyria rebels lose all northeast Aleppo in major blow

By Karam al-Masri with Sara Hussein in Beirut (AFP)     Nov 28, 2016 in World

Syria's rebels lost all of the northern neighbourhoods of their stronghold in east Aleppo on Monday, as the army made significant advances in its offensive to recapture the entire city.

The regime gains have prompted an exodus of thousands of desperate civilians, some fleeing to districts held by the government or Kurdish forces, others heading south into areas still under opposition control.

"The situation is disastrous," said Ibrahim Abu Al-Leith, a spokesman for the White Helmets rescue group in the Ansari neighbourhood.

Syrian pro-government forces drive past damaged buildings in the Masaken Hanano district in eastern ...
Syrian pro-government forces drive past damaged buildings in the Masaken Hanano district in eastern Aleppo
George Ourfalian, AFP

"There is mass displacement and morale is in the gutter," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.

"People are sleeping in the streets. They don't have anything to eat or drink, but neither do we," he told AFP.

The loss of eastern Aleppo would be a potentially devastating blow to Syria's rebels, who seized the area in 2012.

The opposition has steadily lost territory since Russia began an intervention to bolster President Bashar al-Assad in September 2015.

Syrian pro-government forces inspect an area on November 27  2016 in the Masaken Hanano district in ...
Syrian pro-government forces inspect an area on November 27, 2016 in the Masaken Hanano district in eastern Aleppo
George Ourfalian, AFP

On Monday, government forces seized the Sakhur, Haydariya and Sheikh Khodr districts, and Kurdish fighters took the Sheikh Fares neighbourhood from rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

"This is their (the rebels') worst defeat since they seized half the city in 2012," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The advances left all of northeast Aleppo under government control.

- Cold, hungry civilians -

Syria's White Helmets warned on Monday they had no more fuel reserves for vehicles they use to rescue civilians after bombardment.

Syrian families  from various eastern districts of Aleppo  are evacuated by bus through Sheikh Maqsu...
Syrian families, from various eastern districts of Aleppo, are evacuated by bus through Sheikh Maqsud, a Kurdish-controlled enclave between the government-held west of Aleppo and the east, on November 27, 2016
George Ourfalian, AFP

In a video statement, the rescue group urged on "all humanitarian, aid, and medical organisations to immediately intervene to put an end to the humanitarian disaster" facing civilians in besieged Aleppo.

Nearly 10,000 civilians have fled the east, the Observatory said late Sunday, with about 6,000 moving to the Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsud neighbourhood and 4,000 to government-held west Aleppo.

Kurdish officials published a video they said showed civilians crossing a field to Sheikh Maqsud, where local forces helped people lift baggage over a makeshift berm as they arrived.

A damaged mosque stands in the Masaken Hanano district in eastern Aleppo  a day after Syrian pro-gov...
A damaged mosque stands in the Masaken Hanano district in eastern Aleppo, a day after Syrian pro-government forces re-seized it from rebel fighters
George Ourfalian, AFP

Syria's Kurds are officially aligned with neither the government nor the rebels, but the opposition views them as effectively allied with the regime in its bid to recapture Aleppo city.

Hundreds of civilians were also fleeing south to the remaining rebel-held districts with little more than the clothes they wore, an AFP correspondent said.

People in southern neighbourhoods were donating blankets and other items to the new arrivals, who had travelled on foot, exhausted, cold and hungry.

Syrian pro-government forces inspect an area on November 27  2016 in the Masaken Hanano district in ...
Syrian pro-government forces inspect an area on November 27, 2016 in the Masaken Hanano district in eastern Aleppo, a day after they captured it from rebel fighters
George Ourfalian, AFP

The United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" about the plight of civilians in the east, where international aid is exhausted and food stocks are desperately low after more than four months of siege.

The UN has appealed for access to the east many times, but has failed to secure the necessary guarantees to enable aid deliveries.

- 'Turning point' in war -

The government advances mean the regime now controls at least a third of eastern Aleppo, just under two weeks into its renewed bid to recapture the city.

Regime forces advance in Aleppo
Regime forces advance in Aleppo
AFP, AFP

State television said the army had captured the key Suleiman al-Halabi water pumping station, which controls supply to government-held west Aleppo and has periodically been shut by rebels.

Three people were killed and another 29 wounded in rebel fire on western Aleppo on Monday, state media said.

And regime bombardment of the eastern districts killed six civilians, Abdel Rahman said.

The assault has been waged with heavy air strikes, barrel bomb attacks and artillery fire that have killed at least 235 civilians, including 27 children, in east Aleppo, according to the Observatory.

Rebel fire into the government-held west has also killed at least 27 civilians, among them 11 children, since November 15, the monitor says.

Syria's Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, said the next stage of the operation would be "to divide the remaining (rebel-held) area into... districts that will be easily controlled and to capture them successively".

Fabrice Balanche, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the regime retaking east Aleppo "would be a turning point" as it would then hold "the five largest cities in Syria" including the capital.

More than 300,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Syria's deputy foreign minister on Monday denounced accusations by "western" countries that it has used chemical weapons in the conflict as "a campaign of lies".

Faisal Muqdad was speaking at the annual conference in The Hague of countries belonging to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

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