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Middle East

Syrian forces enter 'final stage' of Aleppo conquest

With rebels holding onto less than one percent of eastern Aleppo, the Syrian army said it is close to declaring victory. Amid allegations of war crimes, the EU's top diplomat said it would not impose sanctions on Russia.

Watch video 02:15

Battle for Aleppo enters 'final Phase'

Syrian state television on Monday evening announced that government forces, backed by Russian airstrikes and militias from across the region, gained control of more than 99 percent of eastern Aleppo.

"We are in the final moments before declaring the victory of the Arab Syrian army in the battle of East Aleppo. We could announce this any moment," a Syrian military source told Reuters news agency.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, echoed similar sentiments, telling Germany's DPA news agency that "we are seeing the end" of the battle.

"The areas still under opposition control are very small, and they might fall at any moment," he added.

According to independent war monitors, more than 130,000 people have fled Aleppo since November, when government and Russian forces pushed forward with a brutal campaign to retake rebel-held Aleppo. Since late Sunday, more than 10,000 have fled the city amid the uptick in violence.

Rassam Mustafa of the rebel group Nureddin al-Zinki's politburo said the situation has worsened for opposition forces.

"The regime is advancing under gunfire, missiles and shelling," said Mustafa. "The fighters (rebels) are retreating under pressure and the situation is very bad."

Watch video 02:59

Civilians struggle to flee eastern Aleppo

'Still under shock'

Both sides of the conflict face allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Since November, at least 400 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo by government forces, while rebel shelling has left more than 100 civilians dead.

Robert Mardini, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Middle East, said the situation on the ground has deteriorated, with civilians in eastern Aleppo having no access to humanitarian aid, food or medical supplies.

"We're alarmed about the risks people are taking when fleeing their homes in eastern Aleppo," Mardini said. "Many in the shelters are still under shock."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also expressed his "grave concerns" over the offensive.

"The secretary general is alarmed over reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, in recent hours in Aleppo," his office said in a statement.

Sanctions unlikely

After meeting with EU foreign ministers, the EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini said Brussels will likely not impose sanctions on Syrian and Russian officials in connection to the conflict.

The EU had previously threatened Moscow and Damascus with sanctions due to the humanitarian situation in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria.

More than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria and half the population displaced since 2011, when government forces launched a deadly campaign against peaceful protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

ls/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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