Syria: Aleppo rebels retreat from eater city parts

Smoke rises after rebel fighters launch a mortar shell on residential neighborhood in west Aleppo, Syria, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. The government seized large swaths of the Aleppo enclave under rebel control since 2012 in the offensive that began last week. The fighting was most intense Monday near the dividing line between east and west Aleppo as government and allied troops push their way from the eastern flank, reaching within less than a kilometer (half a mile) from the citadel that anchors the center of the city.(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Fox News – Syrian rebels retreated from former strongholds in eastern Aleppo in a “terrifying” collapse Monday, holding onto a small sliver of territory packed with fighters and thousands of civilians as government troops pressed on with their rapid advance.

The Syrian military said it had gained control of 99 percent of the former opposition enclave in eastern Aleppo, signaling an impending end to the rebels’ four-year hold over parts of the city as the final hours of battle played out.

“The situation is very, very critical,” said Ibrahim al-Haj of the Syrian Civil Defense, volunteer first responders who operate in rebel-held areas. He said he was seeking shelter for himself and his family, fearing clashes or capture by the government.

Retaking Aleppo, which has been divided between rebel- and government-controlled zones since 2012, would be President Bashar Assad’s biggest victory yet in the country’s civil war. But it does not end the conflict: Significant parts of Syria are still outside government control and huge swaths of the country are a devastated waste-land. More than a quarter of a million people have been killed.

On Sunday, the Islamic State (ISIS) group re-occupied the ancient town of Palmyra, taking advantage of the Syrian army and its Russian backers’ preoccupation with the fighting in Aleppo. On Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS fighters were on the verge of imposing a siege on a nearby army base known as T4.

The ISIS recapture of Palmyra nine months after it was retaken by Syrian government and Russian troops led to mutual recriminations between Western officials and Moscow.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault accused Russia of “pretending to fight terrorism” while it concentrated on Aleppo, leaving room for the militants to retake Palmyra. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lashed back, accusing the U.S.-led coalition of orchestrating the Palmyra takeover “in order to give a respite to the bandits sitting in eastern Aleppo.”

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