President Bashar Assad said in comments published on Thursday that Syrian forces’ victory in the battle for Aleppo will be a “big gain” for his government but that it will not end of the country’s civil war.
Assad’s comments came as his troops were pushing further into the rebel-held enclave in eastern Aleppo, in swift advances that were hardly possible earlier in the bitter conflict, now in its sixth year.
Deeply divided since 2012 between Syrian government and rebel-controlled areas, more than three quarters of the rebel section have now fallen under the government’s control, including the symbolically important ancient Aleppo quarters. More than 30,000 of the estimated 275,000 residents of besieged eastern part have fled to western Aleppo.
On Thursday, opposition activists said intensive bombings took place in al-Sukkari and Kallaseh neighborhoods in the area still held by rebels.
State TV said the troops were about to storm the two districts. Al-Sukkari is in the southern part of eastern Aleppo, an area that has become home to the majority of the displaced civilians who stayed behind. Kallaseh is near the Old City.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said meanwhile that it evacuated 148 disabled civilians and others in need of urgent care from a facility in Aleppo’s Old City after fighting had calmed down there.
ICRC said in a statement on Thursday that the evacuation was undertaken jointly with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and was completed late on Wednesday. The people had been trapped in a facility that was originally a home for the elderly and included mental health patients, elderly orphans, and patients with physical disabilities. Some were injured civilians who had sought refuge there.
“They were forgotten,” said Pawel Krzysiek, ICRC communication coordinator in Damascus. The evacuees were taken to hospital and shelters in the western, government-held part of Aleppo.
Others were not as lucky, with eastern Aleppo residents describing bodies lying on the ground because no one could get to them amid intense fighting.
In an emotional plea sent to the media, the head of the eastern Aleppo medical authority called for an immediate cease-fire, saying this was a “last distress call” for help.