Fears grow for Aleppo civilians as Syria regime advances

Meanwhile, Turkey called on the US and other nations to rethink its proposal for a no-fly zone in northern Syria

A Syrian rescuer carries a woman who was found alive in the rubble of a building in Aleppo's rebel-held district of Al Hamra on November 20, 2016. Thaer Mohammed / AFP
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ALEPPO // Syrian regime forces advanced quickly in rebel-held areas of Aleppo on Monday, pressing a new offensive in defiance of international concern over the fate of the city and its residents.

Both US president Barack Obama and the UN’s Syria envoy expressed pessimism about the future of the city, where more than 250,000 people remain besieged in the rebel-held east.

More than 100 civilians have been killed in the east since the regime’s latest offensive began on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

Meanwhile, Turkey called on the US and other nations to rethink its proposal for a no-fly zone in northern Syria hours after a rebel commander allied with Syria’s Kurds said Turkish air strikes killed one fighter and wounded others.

Addressing a Nato parliamentary assembly in Istanbul, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan again criticised allies’ reliance on Syrian Kurdish fighters – who have proven to be among the most successful ground forces battling ISIL.

Turkey has long called for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian opposition forces from president Bashar Al Assad’s air force. Ankara sent its own ground troops into Syria in August, and has carried out strikes against ISIL and US-backed Kurdish forces, which it views as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Ankara’s positions have put it at odds with Washington, which has refused to directly target Mr Al Assad’s forces while providing air support for the Syrian Kurds.

The Observatory said on Monday that government forces backed by Iranian and Russian troops and fighters from Lebanon’s Hizbollah had captured the eastern part of the Masakan Hanano neighbourhood in Aleppo.

“If they take control of Masakan Hanano, the regime will have line of fire control over several rebel-held neighbourhoods and will be able to cut off the northern parts of rebel-held Aleppo from the rest of the opposition-held districts,” said its director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Despite international outrage, including over the bombing of hospitals and rescue worker facilities, there has been little sign that foreign powers or the UN can stop the fighting in Aleppo.

Mr Obama said on Sunday he was “not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria”.

Washington has long backed the uprising against Mr Al Assad, but has not committed military resources like Iran, and particularly Russia, which last year began a aerial campaign in support of Damascus.

Moscow says it is not carrying out strikes on Aleppo, though last week it announced a “major operation” in neighbouring Idlib and central Homs provinces.

On Sunday, Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem rejected a proposal from UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to halt fighting in Aleppo and allow the opposition to administer the east of the city.

The top UN diplomat has warned that time was “running out” for eastern Aleppo, adding there was concern there would be “an acceleration of military activities” in the city and elsewhere.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press