Syria: Assad’s forces make advances, further securing Aleppo region
Thirty villages and towns around city in western countryside captured on Sunday.
Syrian troops have made significant advances against the last rebel held enclaves in the country’s north-west, consolidating the government’s hold over Aleppo province, the state news agency said on Sunday.
The Syrian government advance also appeared to put the provincial capital of Aleppo out of the firing range of opposition groups for the first time in years.
In late 2016, the armed opposition had been driven out of Aleppo city’s eastern quarters, which they controlled for years while battling government forces who held the western part.
But rebel groups had continued to harry government forces from outside the city with mortar rounds.
Thirty villages and towns around the city in the western Aleppo countryside were captured on Sunday, the state news agency Sana reported.
Rami Abdulrahman, head of the war monitor Syria Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed the report from Britain.
“This means the control of Aleppo city and the countryside, and securing all of Aleppo,” Mr Abdulrahman said.
Government troops were still besieging remnants of opposition fighters in a small part of rural Aleppo, state run Al-Ikhbariya TV said.
The fighting in the Aleppo and nearby Idlib province has started a humanitarian crisis.
More than 800,000 civilians of nearly 4 million in the enclave have been displaced, living in open fields and temporary shelters in harsh winter conditions.
The armed opposition is now squeezed into a shrinking area of nearby Idlib province.
“The Syrian people are determined to liberate all Syrian territories,” President Bashar Al Assad said.
Mr Al Assad was speaking during a meeting with visiting Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani.
Iran and Russia have heavily backed Mr Al Assad in the civil war.
The Syrian leader also claimed “terrorists” in north-western Syria were using residents as “human shields" to try to stop Syrian troops from advancing into the territory.
Syria’s government considers all the opposition in the nine-year war as “terrorists” and has repeatedly accused them of taking residents of areas they control as hostages.
But many of the displaced in Idlib have fled the fighting in other parts of the country, choosing to live outside of government control.
Turkey has sent thousands of troops and equipment into the opposition enclave to try to stall the government advance.
Turkey, which backs the opposition, has called for an end to the Syrian government offensive. It also fears that the displaced may overwhelm its borders.
Turkey is already home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees. The UN has also called for a ceasefire.
Mr Larijani reaffirmed his country’s support for Syria in fighting terrorism.
Iran has played a key role in supporting Mr Al Assad’s war efforts, sending financial support and fighters.
Support from Russia and Iran has enabled Mr Al Assad’s forces to regain control of much of the territories they had lost to armed groups who fought to topple him.
More than 400,000 people have been killed and half of Syria’s population displaced since peaceful protests in 2011 turned into a civil war.
Updated: February 17, 2020 11:45 AM