Beirut (AFP) – Syrian government troops on Sunday seized a military academy south of Aleppo city, once again encircling the rebel-held districts in the east and placing them under siege, a monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said government forces backed by Syrian and Russian air strikes had now severed the alternate route into the rebel east that opposition forces opened up in August.
“The army took control of the artillery academy, so they control all the academies, and the eastern neighbourhoods are under a full siege,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
There was no immediate confirmation in state media.
Government forces had been advancing in southern Aleppo for days, with the fighting already creating shortages for the estimated 250,000 people living in the rebel-held parts of the city.
But the capture of the academies, which straddle the road running to the eastern neighbourhoods, reinstates the government’s encirclement of Aleppo.
Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the war that began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government in March 2011.
It has been roughly divided between rebel control in the east and government control in the west since mid-2012, and in recent months regime troops have gradually surrounded the city.
On July 17, they severed the only remaining route into the rebel-held east, the key Castello Road running down from the border with Turkey.
The road’s capture led to shortages of food and fuel in the eastern neighbourhoods, and prompted international concern, including calls for 48-hour ceasefires to allow aid to enter.
On August 6, rebel forces including Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate pushed government forces back from a key route south of the city, creating a lifeline back into the east.
While the reopening of the road allowed some goods into the city, it was inaccessible to most aid agencies, and negotiations to secure a route in for assistance have yet to succeed.