AMMAN: Pro-regime forces cut through rebel frontlines in east Aleppo city and moved within one kilometer of cutting the opposition stronghold in two on Sunday, opposition military sources told Syria Direct, amidst reports of mass civilian displacement.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allied militias advanced to the west from their territory east of Aleppo city on Saturday to capture the Masaken Hanano district. On Sunday, Syrian state media reported that government forces advanced further, capturing the adjacent Jabal Badro district immediately south.
At time of publication on Sunday, fierce clashes between rebel and regime forces were underway in the strategic, opposition-held a-Sakhour district adjoining Masaken Hanano and Jabal Badro to the west.
If the regime captures a-Sakhour, loyalist forces will control a critical bottleneck, isolating approximately 20 percent of opposition-held east Aleppo city from the remainder of rebel territory.
While the regime has not yet captured all of a-Sakhour, “they are advancing into the district,” a rebel military source in east Aleppo told Syria Direct on Sunday on the condition of anonymity. “The regime is putting everything they’ve got into this one with their warplanes and ground attacks.”
The Sunday offensive is the latest in a two-week Russian and Syrian regime campaign to capture east Aleppo city. The intense bombing assault has killed hundreds of civilians and left the city—home to more than 250,000 residents—with no functioning hospitals, Syria Direct reported.
On Saturday, Russian and Syrian regime forces reportedly fired more than 150 airstrikes and 2,500 artillery shells on east Aleppo city and the surrounding countryside, killing at least 46 civilians and injuring 325 others, the Syrian Civil Defense reported.
Rebels retreated from Masaken Hanano on Saturday after more than three days of fighting, military sources in east Aleppo told Syria Direct. However, in less than 24 hours after rebels lost that district, regime forces were able to take control over neighboring Jabal Badro.
Syrian government forces and their allies have spread opposition forces thin in recent days, rebels told Syria Direct, by opening more than a half dozen battlefronts across east Aleppo city.
“The regime certainly didn’t make their advances easily,” Mohammad Adeeb, a spokesman for rebel faction Nour e-Din a-Zinki, told Syria Direct on Sunday. “But, ultimately, they’re putting pressure on all of our fronts, and we’re kept busy with all of the clashes.”
“In my five years of fighting, I’ve never seen such intense bombing as what’s gone on these past five days in Aleppo,” Adeeb added.
The Assad regime’s weekend gains mark the deepest that regime forces have advanced into the opposition stronghold since rebels initially established control over the eastern half of the city in 2012.
Aftermath of airstrikes in east Aleppo last week. Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Center.
At the time of publication, pro-Assad forces were within meters of dividing rebel-held Aleppo into two pockets, a scenario which pro-regime media outlet Al-Masdar said on Saturday will lead to “the inevitable demise” of “Islamist factions” within the city’s eastern half.
The military advance was accompanied by reports of mass civilian displacement, both into both rebel- and regime-held areas. As many as 1,500 east Aleppo residents fled the rebel-held pocket for regime-held territories to the west and east, Syrian state news agency SANA reported on Sunday.
“The army, in cooperation with the concerned sides in Aleppo governorate, transported the families to makeshift housing and provided them with all necessary needs,” SANA reported.
Opposition sources located on the frontlines of the ongoing clashes did not acknowledge the exodus of residents to regime territory. East Aleppo citizen journalist Ammar Jaber told Syria Direct on Sunday that “as many as 1,000 families” fled the northern districts of east Aleppo over the weekend, heading further south into rebel territory.
“Things are absolutely chaotic out there,” Thaher al-Halabi, another east Aleppo citizen journalist, told Syria Direct on Sunday. “Civilians are terrified of the escalation in bombing and are fleeing every which way they can.”