ALEPPO, Syria, Dec. 4 (UPI) — Syrian government forces have taken about half of the rebel-held portion of Aleppo, military leaders said, bringing an end in sight to the bloody six-year stalemate in the city.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have held the gains made in the week since they took control of a key housing district at the center of the eastern portion of the war-torn city.
A top Syrian general told the BBC that government forces have reduced by half the amount of territory in the city under rebel control. The government’s advances came after two weeks of what witnesses described as the heaviest aerial bombardment since the civil war began. Relentless air strikes rained bombs over the city, bringing what little was left of ordinary life to a standstill. The hospitals and stores closed and the bombing was so intense aid workers could not reach the rebel portion with food or medical supplies to assist the estimated 250,000 civilians living in the area who were caught in the crossfire.
The BBC quoted unnamed medical officials in the city as saying the situation had become so dire, life-saving surgeries were being performed on the fly, without the use of anesthetics.
Syrian Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Samir Suleiman said the government was in possession of between 45 percent and 50 percent of the rebel-held portion of the city. He accused rebel fighters of hiding among civilians and using them as human shields. Rebels countered, saying they have allowed civilians seeking to flee the violence to leave, though rebel fighters have largely refused to retreat, and exiled leaders of the anti-Assad forces have said they will not surrender under any circumstances, Al Jazeera reported.
Tens of thousands are reported to have fled the most recent violence, creating a further humanitarian crisis. Observers said 300 civilians have been killed since the renewed fighting in Aleppo began on Nov. 15.