Pro-regime forces overran a strategically important district on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo Thursday, sealing off desperate residents in opposition-held neighbourhoods.
The government advance in Ramussa has completely closed access routes into Aleppo’s rebel-controlled east, under renewed siege since Sunday by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Government forces and allied fighters “retook full control of the Ramussa district after ferocious clashes with rebels, Islamist fighters, and jihadist groups,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the capture of Ramussa on the city’s southern outskirts followed the arrival of reinforcements of Iraqi and Iranian pro-government militiamen this week.
“The regime could not afford to lose this battle, otherwise it would have lost everything,” he told AFP.
“Rebels are now back to square one, under an even more ruthless siege,” Abdel Rahman added.
Rebels and their jihadist allies had launched a major assault in Aleppo’s southern outskirts on July 31 in a bid to break the government’s encirclement of the eastern neighbourhoods.
They successfully opened a route into those districts a week later via Ramussa, but regime forces have managed to recapture nearly all that territory.
The government push was backed by heavy air strikes, including by steadfast regime ally Russia.
State news agency SANA reported that government forces “cut all access and supply routes for terrorist groups from Aleppo via Ramussa and into the eastern districts.”
– Supermarkets shuttered –
Assad’s fighters can now access Aleppo from the north via the key Castello Road and the south through Ramussa, while opposition forces are left with no roads.
An AFP correspondent in the city’s east said shops had been struggling since Sunday to secure goods to sell and that prices were skyrocketing.
Supermarkets in the eastern districts were all closed on Thursday, while street vendors tried to sell a few remaining courgettes and aubergines.
All supermarkets were closed Thursday in the absence of stock of goods.
Among hawkers, only vegetables commonly grown in gardens were available.
“The price of a kilo of meat rose from 3,000 pounds ($6) to 6,000,” complained Ahmad, a father of three children, in the Bustan al-Qasr district which has been ravaged by air strikes and barrel bombs.
Once Syria’s commercial powerhouse, Aleppo is now a divided city, with rebel groups firing into the government-held west and regime and allied Russian warcraft pounding the opposition-controlled east.
On Wednesday, strikes by unidentified aircraft on the eastern Sukkari district left 11 civilians dead, according to the Observatory.
Aleppo province, which borders Turkey to the north, is a patchwork of territory held by competing forces in Syria’s war: rebels, the regime, Kurdish fighters, and jihadists.
The Islamic State group’s last major position in the province is Al-Bab, eyed by rival Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by the US-led coalition and Ankara respectively.
At least 18 people were killed in the IS-held town of Taduf, near Al-Bab, in air strikes by unidentified aircraft on Wednesday, the Observatory said.
They included 10 civilians, according to the monitor, as well as four IS fighters and four people that had yet to be identified.