Syrian regime forces seized full control of northeast Aleppo, overrunning a third of what remained of the rebel enclave and sending thousands of civilians into flight.
The area's recapture brings President Bashar al-Assad's troops closer than ever to realising their biggest victory of the five-year-old civil war - retaking full control of the northern city of Aleppo.
The reconquered neighbourhoods in what was once Syria's commercial capital had thrown off government control in 2012. On November 15, government forces launched a final push to take them back, supported by Russian warplanes and Iranian-backed troops.
Monitoring groups said the rebels in Aleppo city had lost a third of their territory as district after district fell to government and Kurdish forces, which are fighting on separate fronts, although apparently with a degree of coordination. The army retook the northern districts of Sakhur, Haydariya and Sheikh Khodr, while Kurdish militants were in control of areas to the west. There were unconfirmed reports that some male residents had been taken to a nearby airport for interrogation.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said it had registered 4000 new arrivals in the Jibreen district of government-held western Aleppo. An additional 6000 people were reported to have reached the Kurdish-controlled area of Sheikh Maqsoud. Footage showed the newcomers tired, bedraggled and sometimes in tears.
"Parents are fleeing with their children and the only possessions they could grab on the way out," said Pawel Krzysiek, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The capture of eastern Aleppo was considered in 2012 one of the armed opposition's greatest victories. Its fall now seems inevitable.
Residents said the streets were full of displaced civilians, searching for new homes.
Al-Watan, a government-aligned newspaper, said the army aimed to divide the remaining rebel-held territory into isolated pockets, forcing militants to surrender or "accept national reconciliation under the terms of the Syrian state". In other areas across the country, the United Nations has described this strategy as "surrender or starve". In eastern Aleppo, it would involve deepening an already crippling siege on the tens of thousands of civilians still trapped in the middle. The White Helmets rescue group warned of an "imminent humanitarian disaster". Residents said it had already arrived. No aid shipment has reached the area since July, and civilians are surviving on shrinking stockpiles of food, reducing daily meals.
A look at Aleppo
Syria's largest city and once its commercial centre, Aleppo was a crossroads of civilization for millennia. It has been occupied by the Greeks, Byzantines and multiple Islamic dynasties. Its Old City was added in 1986 to Unesco's list of World Heritage sites. The conflict has damaged some landmarks, including the 11th-century Umayyad Mosque, where a minaret collapsed in 2012; the 13th-century citadel; and the medieval marketplace.
Key to victory
Aleppo was one of the last cities in Syria to join the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's Government. With rebel defences crumbling in eastern Aleppo, Assad is on the brink of regaining full control of the city. A government victory, aided by the interventions of his Russian and Iranian allies, would significantly bolster his position in the international arena. Rebels still hold other pockets around Syria, but any movement to unseat Assad will have to reckon with the reality that he holds the country's four largest cities and its coastal region.
The Government's push has laid waste to Aleppo's rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods. A quarter-million people have been trapped in dire conditions since the government besieged the enclave in late August. Food supplies are running perilously low, and a relentless air assault has damaged or destroyed every hospital in the area. Western neighborhoods have suffered, too. After rebels moved into the eastern districts in 2012, residents in the west withstood repeated sieges. Shelling, while far less-intense than government bombardment, has been constant.
The warring parties
The main Kurdish militia, known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, controls several predominantly Kurdish northern neighbourhoods. The main insurgent groups in the city are the Nour el-Din Zenki brigade, the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group and the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Government forces are backed by thousands of Shia militia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, and augmented by Russian air power.
- additional reporting: AP