Aleppo battle: Syria forces ‘seize more rebel-held areas’

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Smoke rises after strikes on rebel-held neighbourhoods of eastern Aleppo, Syria December 5, 2016Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionEastern Aleppo is being pounded by air strikes

Syrian government forces have seized more districts from rebels in eastern Aleppo, state media and a monitoring group say.

The gains mean the government has now recaptured more than 70% of the rebel-held area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

More than 100,000 people are believed to be trapped in districts still under rebel control.

Food supplies are exhausted and there are no functioning hospitals.

“Regime forces took full control of Shaar, Dahret Awad, Juret Awad, Karam al-Beik, and Karam al-Jabal [districts],” the observatory, a UK-based monitoring group, said.

The group’s head, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP news agency that government forces could now wage a “war of attrition” on encircled rebels.

“The regime is cornering the rebels even further,” he said.

Syrian state news agency Sana also reported the advance, saying the army had inflicted “heavy losses” on the rebels, whom it describes as “terrorists”.

In another development, Russia has accused the US of trying to buy time for rebels in Aleppo.

Map showing control of Aleppo (5 December 2016)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the US had called off talks scheduled for Wednesday that were to focus on a possible rebel withdrawal.

“It looks like an attempt to buy time for the rebels, to have a breather, take a pause and replenish their reserves,” he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry rejected the suggestion that they were stalling talks.

“I’m not aware of any specific refusal,” he said, on the sidelines of talks with Nato foreign ministers in Brussels.

Russia is a key ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and has been carrying out air strikes against rebels since September 2015.

On Monday, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution at the UN Security Council that called for a seven-day ceasefire in Aleppo.

Russia said the document infringed a council rule that allowed countries 24 hours to consider the final wording.

The US said Russia was trying to secure recent military gains by Syrian government troops in Aleppo.

It was the sixth time in five years that Russia had used its veto power to block a draft resolution on Syria.

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