Mass exodus underway from Aleppo as Syrian forces make big gains | News | DW | 28.11.2016
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Mass exodus underway from Aleppo as Syrian forces make big gains

Syrian forces have made significant advances in Aleppo as rebels lost most of its territory in the city's east. The accelerating attack by government's troops has forced thousands of people to flee the area.

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Syria war: Thousands flee east Aleppo

In a major victory over Syrian rebels in the war-battered city of Aleppo, government troops took control of all the northern neighborhoods in the east of the city.

The government forces and their allies 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, an area captured by rebel factions in 2012.

"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 Monday.

The regime gains have prompted an exodus of thousands of people. 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.

"We started hearing since yesterday from our teams that the Syrian army and the Iranian militias had started advancing in some areas and that caused massive displacement, people escaping to some parts in Aleppo's besieged areas and the Kurdish and regime-held territories," Farouq Habib, a program manager for the White Helmets rescue group, told DW.

"The White Helmets will be happy if they are allowed to help all Syrians in all areas. But we know that when the Syrian army enters an area, it arrests the civil society activists," Habib said, adding that he did not see a solution to the Syrian crisis as Aleppo is not the only besieged area in the country.

The White Helmets warned Monday they had no more fuel reserves for vehicles to rescue people that are caught in the fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and the opposition fighters. The group urged on "all humanitarian, aid, and medical organizations to immediately intervene to put an end to the humanitarian disaster."

Around 250,000 civilians besieged for months in the east of Aleppo have faced serious food and fuel shortages. More than 300,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict erupted with the start of anti-Assad protests in March 2011.

Syrien Aleppo (Reuters/A. Ismail)

Nearly 10,000 civilians had fled east Aleppo overnight Saturday

Calls for sanctions

Meanwhile, the head of Germany's parliamentary foreign affairs committee on Monday called for sanctions against Russia for its support to the Assad regime.

Syrian forces have made significant advances against rebels since Moscow lent its military support to the regime last year.

Norbert Röttgen, a parliamentarian in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Green party MP Franziska Brantner said that the West must immediately respond to coordinated attacks by Syria and Russia in eastern Aleppo.

"The European Union must at least impose sanctions on the Russian henchmen of these atrocities," they wrote in a statement. "It is not acceptable that those responsible for war crimes fly to Munich or Paris to do their Christmas shopping while women and children are dying in Syria."

The German foreign ministry on Monday called for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo to allow humanitarian aid to reach besieged citizens.

"The tragedy must end. The regime and its supporters, above all Russia and Iran, bear the biggest responsibility for that," a spokesperson for the ministry said.

shs/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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