Pro-Assad forces ‘close to re-taking Aleppo’

Aleppo: Supported by the Russian Air Force, Syrian Army troops on Monday made major gains in the fight for the embattled northern city of Aleppo, local new site Ara News reported. The relentless advance has displaced thousands of civilians.

Military forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have expelled rebel groups from most of the formerly opposition-held eastern Aleppo, Ara News said.

“Pro-Assad forces are now in control of approximately 85 percent of eastern Aleppo,” local media activist Ayad al-Aliya was quoted as telling Ara News.

Backed by a Russian air cover and with support from Iranian militias, Syrian army forces on Monday captured the districts of al-Fardous, Karam al-Daada and Jisr al-Hajj.

“Dozens of rebel fighters were killed in Monday’s clashes, and many others were forced to evacuate their positions in the eastern part of Aleppo under heavy blows by the pro-Assad forces and Russian warplanes,” said human rights activist Sami Heydan, cited by Ara News.

Meanwhile the chief of Syrian security forces in Aleppo, Zaid al-Salih, called on the rebel groups in eastern Aleppo to “either surrender or die”.

“This fight is over. If you want to save yourselves from further losses surrender to the Syrian Army or die,” the official said in a message to the besieged rebel factions.

The regime advance was preceded by some of the fiercest bombardment on Aleppo, with artillery shelling through the night and Monday morning and numerous airstrikes.

East Aleppo housed an estimated quarter of a million civilians before the latest government offensive, who were living with inadequate food stocks, fuel, water and electricity, and with no functioning hospitals.

Pope Francis has written to Assad calling for joint efforts to end Syria’s five-and-a-half-year-long civil war, the state-run news agency Sana said on Monday.

The pope’s letter expressed solidarity with Syria and its people and said the Vatican condemned “all forms of extremism and terrorism”, according to Sana.

The letter was delivered by the Papal Envoy to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari, Sana said.