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Middle East

Syrian regime routs rebels in eastern Aleppo

Syrian rebels have been scattered in eastern Aleppo by a pro-government offensive, a monitor says. The loss is a setback for insurgents as government forces and its allies drive to retake the entire city.

A monitoring group said Monday that Syrian government forces and their allies had captured the Sakhour district while pro-Kurdish forces took the Sheikh Fares district from rebels. The capture of Sakhour effectively splits anti-government forces in eastern Aleppo, a stronghold long held by rebel factions

"The rebels have lost at least 30 percent of the territory they once controlled in Aleppo," Rami Abdel Rahman, chief of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said amid reports of civilians fleeing areas long held by anti-government forces. "It is the first exodus of this kind from east Aleppo since 2012."

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad made gains as aircraft pounded rebel positions amid heavy clashes between the opposition and loyalist forces in the strategic Sakhour district. 

Around 250,000 civilians besieged for months in the east of Aleppo 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.

Yasser al-Youssef, from the rebel group Nureddin al-Zinki, said opposition fighters had been trying to hold positions, but were being decimated by airstrikes. "We are strengthening our positions to defend the city and residents, but the aircraft are destroying everything methodically, area by area," he 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. More than 225 civilians - including 27 children - have been killed since the Syrian government's assault on east Aleppo began November 15.

The Syrian conflict began as a populist uprising in 2011 but has since spiraled into a complex civil war involving Turkey, Iran and Russia, as well as militias allied along religious, ethnic and ideological lines. It has also sparked the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

jar/kl (AFP, Reuters)

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