Fears grow for Aleppo civilians as Syrian regime advances

A woman being rescued from the rubble of a building following reported air strikes on Aleppo's rebel-held district of al-Hamra on Sunday.
A woman being rescued from the rubble of a building following reported air strikes on Aleppo's rebel-held district of al-Hamra on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Over 100 civilians killed in rebel-held east since latest offensive began last Tuesday

ALEPPO (Syria) • Syrian regime forces advanced quickly in rebel-held areas of Aleppo yesterday, pressing a new offensive in defiance of international concern over the fate of the city and its residents.

Both United States President Barack Obama and the United Nations' Syria envoy expressed pessimism about the future of the city, where more than 250,000 people are besieged in the rebel-held east.

Over 100 civilians have been killed in the east since the regime's latest offensive began on Tuesday last week, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

LOOMING CATASTROPHE

By Christmas... due to military intensification, you will have the virtual collapse of what is left in eastern Aleppo; you may have 200,000 people moving towards Turkey - that would be a humanitarian catastrophe.

UNITED NATIONS ENVOY STAFFAN DE MISTURA

The group said government forces, backed by Iranian and Russian troops and fighters from Lebanon's Hizbollah, had captured the eastern part of the Masakan Hanano neighbourhood.

"It is the most important advance inside the eastern neighbourhoods that the regime has made so far," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

"If they take control of Masakan Hanano, the regime will have line-of-fire control over several rebel-held neighbourhoods and will be able to cut off the northern parts of rebel-held Aleppo from the rest of the opposition-held districts."

Once Syria's economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the conflict that began with anti-government protests in March 2011 before spiralling into a brutal war that has killed more than 300,000 people.

The city has been divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since mid-2012. In mid-July, the regime surrounded the east, subsequently announcing an operation to recapture it completely.

Despite international outrage, including over the bombing of hospitals and rescue worker facilities, there has been little sign that foreign powers or the UN can stop the fighting in Aleppo.

On Sunday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moalem rebuffed a proposal from UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to halt fighting in Aleppo and allow the opposition to administer the east of the city.

Under the proposal, militant forces would have left east Aleppo, and both sides would cease fire.

Mr Moalem said the government rejected the proposal because it would "reward terrorists".

The top UN diplomat warned that time was "running out" for eastern Aleppo, adding there was concern that "instead of a humanitarian or a political initiative", there would be "an acceleration of military activities" in the city and elsewhere.

"By Christmas... due to military intensification, you will have the virtual collapse of what is left in eastern Aleppo; you may have 200,000 people moving towards Turkey - that would be a humanitarian catastrophe," he warned.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Fears grow for Aleppo civilians as Syrian regime advances'. Print Edition | Subscribe