The Syrian army said it had taken control of an important district in rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Saturday after fierce fighting, with rebels blaming intense air strikes and lack of hospitals for their collapsing frontline.
Government forces advanced with a ground and air assault on the edge of the besieged eastern half of the city into the Hanano housing area, a move designed to split the rebel-held east in two.
Aleppo, which was Syria’s biggest city before the start of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, is divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east, where UN officials say at least 250,000 people are under siege.
Capturing all of Aleppo would be a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after five and a half years of fighting.
The army said in a statement that it had, alongside its allies, taken full control of the Hanano housing district, which is on the northeast frontline of the eastern sector.
“Engineering teams are removing mines and improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists in the squares and streets,” the statement said.
The Syrian government calls all forces fighting against it “terrorists”.
An official in an Aleppo rebel group said a map circulated by pro-government media showing government forces in control of the Hanano area was largely accurate.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army had established control over Hanano, which was the first part of Aleppo taken over by armed opposition groups in 2012.
A renewed air assault on residential and frontline parts of east Aleppo began last Tuesday after a weeks-long pause in air strikes and shelling there.
“Every day there are a lot of attacks, helicopters dropping barrel bombs and war planes dropping bunker-buster bombs and cluster munitions,” Modar Shekho, an emergency nurse in al-Shaar neighbourhood, told Al Jazeera.
An official from Jabha Shamiya, one of the biggest groups fighting against Assad in northern Syria, told Reuters news agency: “The revolutionaries are fighting fiercely but the volume of bombardments and the intensity of the battles, the dead and the wounded, and the lack of hospitals, are all playing a role in the collapse of these frontlines.”
Members of Jabha Shamiya have taken part in the fighting in Hanano.
He condemned the “international silence” and said the government and its allies were trying to exploit the period before the next US administration took over.
“The Iranians, Russians and regime know there is a vacuum and they are trying to exploit it using all means,” he said.
“We are in touch with the friendly states but unfortunately Aleppo is being left to be slaughtered.”
Al Jazeera’s Osama bin Javaid, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said nearly 300,000 people were still stuck in Aleppo.
“Thousands have fled the Hanano neighbourhood and other areas near the frontlines towards the central parts,” he said.
“But the air strikes in the last 13 days have relentlessly targeted anything that moves, be it ambulances or rescue workers. Hospitals have been destroyed and people have very little food and medicine.”
Yasser al-Yousef, from the political office of the Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group, said rebel fighters had fought fiercely for more than 48 hours to defend Hanano and the southern front of east Aleppo from heavy government bombardment.
A Syrian state television reporter broadcast live from a part of Hanano on Saturday as government forces sought to establish full control over the area. Gunshots could be heard and behind him damaged buildings and rising smoke could be seen.
Rebels say much of Hanano has been empty of residents for some months.
Syrian state media said the army had secured the safe passage of at least 150 people out of Hanano, and showed pictures of people it said were evacuated residents in a reception centre.
In the 12 days since the renewed bombardment on east Aleppo, at least 201 civilians, including 27 children, have died in the besieged sector, the Observatory said. There were 134 rebel fighter deaths.
The monitor also documented 19 civilian deaths, including 11 children, and dozens of injuries as a result of rebel shelling of government-held west Aleppo.
Rebel shelling into the Sheikh Maqsoud district, which is under the control of the Kurdish YPG militia, has killed three people, it said.
Syrian state news agency SANA said three people died and 15 were injured on Saturday when rebels fired rockets into government-held west Aleppo.