Smoke billows after an air strike by Syrian forces in Daraa. Pic/AFP
Smoke billows after an air strike by Syrian forces in Daraa. Pic/AFP

Aleppo: Syrian regime forces have entered eastern Aleppo and retaken parts of its largest district, launching a long-threatened ground assault to wrest control of the area from rebels.

The troops’ gains in the key neighbourhood of Masaken Hanano were backed by regime air strikes and mark the first time that government forces have taken a significant part of eastern Aleppo since rebels seized the area more than four years ago.

Government forces and armed groups loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a push toward eastern Aleppo on November 15 as warplanes decimated much of the zone with air strikes following a three-week lull.

But on Saturday, they broke through rebel defence lines and entered the zone by ground from the northeast, according to civilians and the state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). Other troops are still pushing in from the south.

SANA reported that forces were now in “full control” of the area, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an activist group on the ground said only parts were in the hands of the regime and paramilitary gunmen.
CNN correspondents in the region say it would likely be days before the whole neighbourhood is recaptured, as forces will have to clear buildings of potential booby traps and mines.