Rebels fight back as army captures key district in Aleppo

Syrian soldiers walk through rubble after liberating the area 1070 apartment in Aleppo province, Syria on Nov 8, 2016.
Syrian soldiers walk through rubble after liberating the area 1070 apartment in Aleppo province, Syria on Nov 8, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

BEIRUT • The Syrian army said it had taken a strategic district of Aleppo in what would mark the most important advance in the divided city by Damascus and its allies in weeks, but rebels said the battle was not over.

The 1070 Apartments district is located on the south-western outskirts of Aleppo and lies alongside the government's corridor into the parts of the city that it controls.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that government forces and their allies had seized full control of the district on Tuesday, calling it the most significant gain by the government in Aleppo since September.

A Syrian military source said the army and allied forces were in complete control of the area and surrounding hills.

They had made repeated efforts to oust rebels from the district for months.

A military media unit run by the Damascus-allied Hizbollah carried a similar report. Hizbollah, a Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim group, is fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's war, now well into its sixth year.

But officials from two rebel groups fighting in Aleppo - Syria's largest city and commercial hub before the war - said insurgent forces were still trying to fight back.

"The clashes around 1070 Apartments are still going on," Fastaqim rebel group's Zakaria Malahifji said, while confirming that the army had taken the district.

Nour al-Din al-Zenki rebel group's Yasser Alyousef said they had recovered positions that they lost on Monday.

Syrian government forces, backed by allied militias and Russian air power, launched a major assault on rebel-held eastern Aleppo in September after besieging the area, which the United Nations says is home to 275,000 people.

On Oct 29, rebels launched counter-attacks, targeting government- held western districts of Aleppo in an offensive that included Islamist militants and rebels fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner. But their progress slowed after early gains.

Russia says its air force has been observing a moratorium on air strikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo since Oct 18, but Interfax news agency quoted a source in the Russian Defence Ministry as saying on Tuesday that it was preparing to resume air strikes around Aleppo "in the coming hours".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'Rebels fight back as army captures key district in Aleppo'. Print Edition | Subscribe