Rebel official: Army repelled from south Aleppo

Syrians that evacuated the eastern districts of Aleppo gather to board buses, in a government held area in Aleppo, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on November 29, 2016. (Reuters)

Rebel groups fully repelled the Syrian army and its allies from the Sheikh Saeed district in southeast Aleppo, a rebel official said on Wednesday after a Syrian military source said government troops and allied forces had captured the district.

Zakaria Malahifji, head of the political office of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim rebel group, denied this, saying the insurgents had control of the area but that there were ongoing clashes.

Earlier in the day, Syrian government artillery fire killed 21 civilians, including two children, in an eastern district of Aleppo early Wednesday, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least eight of those killed were civilians who had fled from elsewhere in the east as government forces advanced, and sought refuge in rebel-held Jubb al-Qubbeh.

The Britain-based monitor said dozens more were wounded in the “fierce” shelling, and many people were stuck under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Tens of thousands of people have poured out of the rebel-held northeast in recent days, with some crossing into territory held by either the government or Kurdish forces, but others moving south into remaining rebel-held territory.

The White Helmets rescue group published photos of the aftermath of the attacks, showing an apocalyptic scene with bodies and parts of flesh strewn on a street among the rubble of surrounding buildings.

In one image, a young man appeared to weep next to two bodies, their top halves obscured by blankets.

The feet of one body were clad in pink socks, the other wore red boots done up with white laces.

Suitcases and plastic bags were strewn among the bodies, which the White Helmet workers carefully transferred into orange body bags.

50,000 flee

More than 50,000 people have fled rebel-held east Aleppo in the last four days as government forces advance, the Observatory said Wednesday.

The Observatory said more than 20,000 people had fled to western neighborhoods of the city held by the government, with another 30,000 moving to areas held by Kurdish forces.

Syrian troops have seized at least a third of eastern Aleppo since renewing their bid to recapture all of the battered second city just over two weeks ago.

The former rebel stronghold has been under a government siege for more than four months, with international aid rations exhausted and other food stocks dwindling.

The government has said passages are open for civilians or surrendering rebels to cross into the west of the city, and accuses opposition forces of trying to prevent residents from leaving.

Many have chosen to go from the east to neighborhoods held by Kurdish forces, which are officially aligned with neither the regime nor rebels, such as Sheikh Maqsud in the city’s north.

Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the conflict that began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

The rebel-held east, which fell from government control in 2012, has been particularly savaged by the conflict, with widespread destruction caused by repeated regime attacks.

In September, the army announced a bid to retake the city, and it began a new phase of that operation on November 15, making swift progress.

The loss of east Aleppo would be potentially the worst blow for rebel forces since the conflict began.

Calls for safe passage

Meanwhile, the president of the Aleppo local council on Wednesday urged the international community and the Syrian government to set up a safe corridor to help civilians leave the besieged city.

“We ask that civilians are allowed to leave eastern Aleppo,” said Brita Hagi Hasan, who was speaking at a news conference held with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

The Syrian army and its allies announced the capture of a large swathe of eastern Aleppo from rebels earlier this week, in an attack that threatens to crush the opposition in its most important urban stronghold.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that the Syrian government had detained hundreds of people forced to flee rebel-held areas of east Aleppo by the attack.

Ayrault, who has called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on Aleppo, said the UN Security Council members should agree on concrete measures to save civilians.

Meanwhile, Russia said on Wednesday that it is ready to provide safe passage to aid agencies that want to deliver supplies to eastern Aleppo.
 

(With Reuters, AFP)

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