Syrian government forces and allied fighters advanced further into rebel-held Aleppo on Monday, pressing an offensive in defiance of international concern for the fate of the city and its beleaguered civilians.
“At least 36 people were killed in Monday’s bombing,” rescue worker Ibrahim Abu Leith told Al Jazeera. “These are the most violent attacks we’ve seen in five years.”
The recapture of the rebel-held east, which fell from government control in 2012, would be the government’s most significant victory since the conflict began more than five years ago.
Geert Cappelaere, regional director for the UN’s children’s agency, said more than 100,000 children were trapped. “Children should not be dying in hospitals because of bombs, and they should not be dying in schools.”
Rebel forces have steadily lost ground since Moscow, a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad, intervened to bolster his government last year.
Activists and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday government forces backed by Iranian and Russian troops and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah captured the eastern part of the Masakan Hanano neighbourhood.
“It is the most important advance inside the eastern neighbourhoods that the regime has made so far,” said Syrian Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
“If they take control of Masakan Hanano, the regime will have line of fire control over several rebel-held neighbourhoods and will be able to cut off the northern parts of rebel-held Aleppo from the rest of the opposition-held districts.”
Abdel Rahman said the advance had both strategic and symbolic significance, because Masakan Hanano was the first neighbourhood to fall to rebels in 2012.
Syria’s Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, described the neighbourhood as the “biggest and most important stronghold of the gunmen” in Aleppo.