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Assad regime advances in Aleppo

The Syrian army and allied militias seized ground north of Aleppo on Saturday, tightening a siege of the city's rebel-held east as it came under fierce air strikes in a major Russian-backed offensive that has left Washington's Syria policy in tatters, Reuters has reported.

Although the offensive was announced last Thursday, it had failed to gain any ground. A commander in the Nour Al-Din Al-Zenki rebel faction stated on Friday that the regime had failed to advance since the offensive began.

However, today's movements mark the first major ground advance of the offensive. Residents of the rebel-held half of the city say warplanes have unleashed unprecedented firepower.

Saturday's advance captured a camp for Palestinian refugees on elevated ground overlooking one of the main roads into Aleppo. Handarat, as the camp is known, had been in rebel hands for years.

"Handarat has fallen," an official with one of the main Aleppo rebel groups told Reuters. An army statement confirming the advance said "large numbers of terrorists" had been killed, using the regime's terminology for any anti-Assad groups.

Dozens of people have been reported killed in eastern Aleppo since the army announced the new offensive late on Thursday, burying any remaining hope for reviving a ceasefire that was brokered by the United States and Russia, but which Moscow and its ally President Bashar Al-Assad abandoned after a week.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was left pleading this week with Russia to halt air strikes, but was ignored. Russia was also accused of bombing a UN aid convoy last Monday that contributed to the breakdown of the fragile truce.

The collapse of diplomacy and Assad's decision to launch an all-out assault on the last large urban area still in rebel hands appears to mark a turning point in a conflict that has stalemated for years. Assad and his allies seem more determined than ever to crush the nearly six-year-old rebellion by force.

Western countries and international aid organisations say they fear for the lives of more than 250,000 people civilians believed to be trapped in the rebel-held zone of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, divided into opposition and government sectors for years. The army says it is only targeting militants.

"There are planes in the sky now," Ammar Al-Selmo, the head of the Civil Defence rescue service in the opposition-held east, told Reuters from Aleppo on Saturday morning.

The group draws on ambulance workers and volunteers who dig survivors and dead bodies out of the rubble, often with their bare hands. It says several of its own headquarters have been targeted.

"Our teams are responding but are not enough to cover this amount of catastrophe," Al-Selmo explained.

A pro-regime Iraqi militia commander in the Aleppo area told Reuters the aim was to capture all of Aleppo within a week.
A Western diplomat said on Friday the only way for the government to take the area that quickly would be to decimate it in "such a monstrous atrocity that it would resonate for generations."

This raised the question of whether Aleppo would suffer a similar atrocity as that perpetrated by Hafez Al-Assad, the late Syrian leader and father of Bashar, against rebels to his rule in the city of Hama in 1982. Hama was largely levelled, costing thousands of civilian lives.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that reports on the war, said it had documented 72 deaths since Friday, including five children. Al-Selmo of the Civil Defence said the toll was more than 100.

The siege on Aleppo was briefly broken by the opposition last month, but this victory was short-lived as Russian air power supported the Assad regime and Iran-backed Shia militias to retake areas of the city. The current offensive is the first major operation in Aleppo undertaken by the Assad regime since August.

Middle EastNewsSyria
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