Government forces retook six rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo over the weekend, forcing nearly 10,000 civilians to flee as they pressed their offensive to retake Syria’s second city. In a major breakthrough in the push to retake the whole city, regime forces on Saturday captured Masaken Hanano, which had been the biggest rebel-held district in eastern Aleppo. On Sunday, the 13th day of the operation, they also took control of the adjacent neighbourhoods of Jabal Badra and Baadeeen and captured three others, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
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Inzarat, Al-Sakan al-Shaabi and Ain al-Tall have all returned to regime hands and government forces have made large forays into Sakhur and nearby Haidariya, the monitor said. It said government forces are “in control of most of the northern part” of Aleppo.
“The rebels have lost at least 30 percent of the territory they once controlled in Aleppo,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. The regime gains came as its aircraft pounded rebel positions and amid heavy clashes between the opposition and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the strategic Sakhur district.
Masaken Hanano was the first district the rebels took in the summer of 2012 in a move that divided the city into a rebel-held east and a regime-controlled west. Around 250,000 civilians besieged for months in the east have faced serious food and fuel shortages.
The Observatory said that nearly 10,000 civilians had fled east Aleppo overnight Saturday — at least 6,000 to the Kurdish-controlled northern district of Sheikh Maksoud, with the rest fleeing to government-held areas.
“It is the first exodus of this kind from east Aleppo since 2012,” Abdel Rahman said. Syrian state television broadcast images of a crowd of civilians including women and children gathered around green buses that it said had come to pick them up in Masaken Hanano.
One woman was shown pushing a stroller and many others carried plastic bags on their heads as bombardment was heard in the distance. Official media said they were taken “by the army to safe areas”. Yasser al-Youssef, from the rebel group Nureddin al-Zinki, said opposition fighters were consolidating their positions in Sakhur.
“We are strengthening our positions to defend the city and residents, but the aircraft are destroying everything methodically, area by area,” he said of a regime campaign of air strikes. Sakhur lies on a stretch of just 1.5 kilometres (less than a mile) between west Aleppo and Masaken Hanano, now both regime-controlled.