Smoke rises near Bustan al-Qasr crossing point in a government controlled area, during clashes with rebels in Aleppo, Syria December 5, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - The Syrian army and its allies are in the "final stages" of recapturing Aleppo after a sudden advance that has pushed rebels to the brink of collapse in a shrinking enclave, a Syrian general said on Monday.
A Reuters journalist in the government-held zone said the bombardment of rebel areas of the city had continued non-stop overnight, and a civilian trapped there described the situation as resembling "Doomsday."
"The battle in eastern Aleppo should end quickly. They (rebels) don't have much time. They either have to surrender or die," Lieutenant General Zaid al-Saleh, head of the government's Aleppo security committee, told reporters in the recaptured Sheikh Saeed district of the city.
Rebels withdrew from all districts on the east side of the Aleppo river after losing Sheikh Saeed in the south of their pocket in overnight fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It meant their rapidly diminishing enclave had halved in only a few hours and Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman described the battle for Aleppo as having reached its end.
"The situation is extremely difficult today," said Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim rebel group fighting in Aleppo.
The toll of the Syrian Civil War on civilians in Aleppo, Syria
The rebels' sudden retreat represented a "big collapse in terrorist morale," a Syrian military source said.
Syrian President Bashar Assad
, backed by Russia, is now close to taking back full control of Aleppo, which was Syria's most populous city before the war and would be his greatest prize so far after nearly six years of conflict.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that since the start of the Aleppo battle, more than 2,200 rebels had surrendered and 100,000 civilians had left areas of the city that were controlled by militants.
"People run from one shelling to another to escape death and just to save their souls ... It's doomsday in Aleppo, yes doomsday in Aleppo," said Abu Amer Iqab, a former government employee in the Sukkari district in the heart of the rebel enclave.
State television footage from Saliheen, one of the districts that had just fallen to the army, showed mounds of rubble and half-collapsed buildings, with bodies still lying on the ground and a few bewildered civilians carrying children or suitcases.