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September 20, 2017

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Syria rebels lose all of northeast Aleppo

ALEPPO, Syria--Syria's rebels lost all the northern neighborhoods of their stronghold in east Aleppo on Monday, as the army made significant advances in its offensive to recapture the entire city.

The regime's gains have prompted an exodus of desperate civilians, most fleeing to districts held by the government or Kurdish forces, others heading south into areas still under opposition control.

The rebel losses suggested it would only be a matter of time before all of east Aleppo — held by the opposition since 2012 — is back in government hands.

The loss of the city's east would be a potentially devastating blow for Syria's rebels, who have seen their territory fall steadily under government control since Russia began an intervention to bolster President Bashar al-Assad in September 2015.

On Monday, government forces seized the Sakhur, Haydariya and Sheikh Khodr districts, while Kurdish fighters took the Sheikh Fares neighborhood from rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

"This is their (the rebels') worst defeat since they seized half the city in 2012," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The advances left all of northeast Aleppo under government control.

On Sunday night, the Observatory said nearly 10,000 civilians had fled the east, with around 6,000 moving to the Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsud neighborhood and 4,000 to government-held west Aleppo.

Cold, Hungry Civilians

State television showed footage of families disembarking from the green coaches regularly used to transport civilians and surrendering rebels from territory retaken by the government.

Kurdish officials published a video they said showed civilians crossing a field and arriving in Sheikh Maqsud, where local forces helped people lift baggage over a makeshift berm as they arrived.

Syria's Kurds are officially aligned with neither the government nor the rebels, but the opposition views them as effectively allied with the regime in its bid to recapture Aleppo city.

Civilians were also fleeing south to the remaining districts held by the rebels, arriving with little more than the clothes they were wearing, an AFP correspondent said.

He said dozens of families arrived in the south of the city overnight, and they were being housed in some of the many empty buildings left behind by earlier waves of residents fleeing the city.

People in southern neighborhoods were donating blankets and other items to the new arrivals, who travelled on foot, exhausted, cold and hungry.

"The situation in eastern Aleppo is very fluid and things are evolving quickly," said Scott Craig, spokesman of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

"We are deeply concerned about the impact of the fighting on the civilian population in Aleppo," he told AFP.

Aleppo's east has been under government siege for more than four months, with international aid provisions exhausted and food stocks running desperately low.

The U.N. has appealed for access to the east of the city multiple times, but has failed to secure the necessary guarantees to deliver aid.

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