Peace hopes fade as Syrian army tightens grip on Aleppo
Government recaptures key towns from rebels, as doubts grow about a pause in fighting and humanitarian crisis worsens.
Syrian government forces continue to make military advances and tighten their grip around the key city of Aleppo, days after the main players in the nearly five-year conflict pledged a cessation of hostilities.
World leaders have admitted the likely success of a plan to cease “hostilities” in Syria within a week is roughly 50-50.
The Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, on Saturday regained control of al-Tamoura town and several surrounding hills in Aleppo’s northern suburbs, according to Syrian activists and the state news agency.
The offensive means government troops are now closer to cutting off one of the main supply routes for Syrian rebels, who still control much of Aleppo city.
“Army units, in co-operation with supporting forces, restored security and stability to al-Tamoura village at the northern countryside of Aleppo,” Syrian state news agency SANA said.
Sami Kekhia, a Syrian activist on the Turkey-Syria border, confirmed to Al Jazeera that al-Tamoura was captured, but said that rebels were fighting back in ongoing clashes.
The Syrian government launched a major offensive from the north of Aleppo and captured several strategically important towns earlier this month.
The offensive has led to the displacement of more than 50,000 civilians from Aleppo, tens of thousands of whom have amassed in camps at the Turkish border.
Abu Thaer al-Halabi, who heads the media office at the rebel-controlled Aleppo local council, told Al Jazeera that most of Aleppo’s northern suburbs had been evacuated.
“The humanitarian situation in Aleppo is horrible. We are running out of supplies and resources are very limited. People are fleeing their homes and heading north towards Turkey or west towards Idlib suburbs,” he said.
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“What the government is trying to do is push further south and control a supply line that connects northern areas to western areas. In return the government would have surrounded Aleppo city, blocking it from Nubul and Zahra.
“Heavy clashes are still taking place as rebels are trying to recapture al-Tamoura town,” Halabi added.
As the situation worsened in Aleppo earlier this week, world powers – including the U.S., Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria that could serve as a bridge towards the resumption of genuine peace talks later this month.
But when asked on Saturday at a security conference in Munich to assess the chances of the ceasefire deal succeeding, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answered: “49 percent”.
Asked the same question, his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier put the odds at 51 percent.
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Their comments came after the publication of an interview with President Assad, in which the Syrian leader said his armed forces would try to retake the entire country “without hesitation”.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that government and Russian war planes targeted areas near the town of Azaz near the border with Turkey on Saturday.
The Observatory reported on Wednesday that at least 500 people, including 89 civilians, have been killed since the offensive began on February 1.
|Syrian army tightens grip on Aleppo|