Syrian army and allies make gains in Aleppo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army captured the Dahiyet al-Assad district of western Aleppo on Saturday, reversing all the gains made by rebels two weeks into their counter-attack against government-held areas, a war monitor and rebel official said.

Slideshow ( 5 images )

State television said the army swept the suburban area for landmines after regaining full control.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said the army and its allies made several advances on the divided city’s western edge this week, hampering the rebel offensive to break the siege of opposition-held districts.

After heavy air strikes pounded the area, Syrian government forces took Minian village and nearby positions, which were captured by rebels last month, the Observatory said.

Zakaria Malahifji, head of the political office of the Fastaqim rebel group fighting in Aleppo, confirmed the army’s advances.

“Of course, when the regime takes control, it has a negative effect, but there is persistence” among the factions, he said. “And hopefully there will be change in the coming days.”

The city has been divided for years between the government-held west and rebel-held east.

Syrian government forces launched a major Russian-backed assault on eastern Aleppo in September after besieging the area, which the United Nations says is home to 275,000 people.

On Oct. 28, rebels counter-attacked in a bid to break the siege, targeting western districts of Aleppo in an offensive that included Islamist militants and rebels fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner. But their progress slowed after early advances.

Aleppo has become the most intense front in the war pitting President Bashar al-Assad, helped by Iran, Shi’ite militias and Russian air power, against mostly Sunni rebels groups, some backed by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.

Quoting a Syrian military source, state news agency SANA said the army and its allies were steadily advancing on the western outskirts.

This week the army also captured the 1070 Apartments district and nearby hills in southwest Aleppo, a focal point of fighting for months and important because of its position alongside a corridor used by the government into the western zone.

Russia says its air force has been observing a moratorium on air strikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo since Oct. 18. The Observatory and emergency workers in eastern Aleppo said heavy air strikes had killed at least 450 people, and hit hospitals and other civilian facilities prior to that.

Warplanes hit several areas of Aleppo’s western suburbs and countryside on Saturday, where rebels had been trying to advance, the Observatory said.

Rebel shelling of government-held western Aleppo has meanwhile killed 92 people, including 29 children, during the two-week offensive, the Observatory reported.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Jon Boyle