Syria, Russia pound rebel-held Aleppo but advances halt

Sat Dec 10, 2016 4:05pm EST
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By Laila Bassam and John Davison

ALEPPO, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's military and Russian warplanes bombarded rebel-held districts of Aleppo on Saturday as Damascus's allies said victory was near, but insurgents fought back and army advances halted after rapid gains during the week.

The United States said it was meeting a Russian team in Geneva to find a way to save lives, but an agreement looked elusive as the two countries, which back opposing sides, have repeatedly failed to strike a deal to allow evacuations and help aid deliveries.

Russia, whose military intervention helped turn the war in President Bashar al-Assad's favor, said the Syrian government now controls 93 percent of Aleppo, a figure Reuters could not independently verify. Recapture of the country's second-largest city would deal a major blow to rebels who have fought to unseat Assad in the nearly six-year war.

The insurgents are holed out in a handful of areas mostly south of the historic Old City, having lost nearly three-quarters of territory they controlled for years in the space of around two weeks.

Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah, a key military ally of Damascus alongside Russia and Iran, said late on Friday that a "promised victory" in Aleppo was imminent and would change the course of the war.

The advances mean the government appears closer to victory than at any point since 2011 protests against Assad evolved into armed rebellion. The war has killed more than 300,000 people and made more than 11 million homeless.

A win for Assad in Aleppo looks close, but the fighting still raged on Saturday.

In a surprise setback elsewhere, government forces lost control of most of the ancient city of Palmyra in eastern Syria to Islamic State, a war monitor and rebels said. [L5N1E506M]   Continued...

Children fill containers with water in a rebel-held besieged area of Aleppo, Syria December 10, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail