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Syrian forces press on east Aleppo as US halts talks with Russia

UN human rights chief calls for end to Security Council veto as more than 10,000 Shia troops reported to be massing outside east Aleppo
Syrian government forces have advanced in Aleppo since ending the ceasefire (AFP)

Syrian government forces pressed their assault on rebel-held areas of Aleppo on Tuesday, a day after the US suspended all talks with Russia on a ceasefire deal in protest at the continued bombardment of the city.

Forces loyal to the Syrian government have seized several high-rise buildings in the central district of Suleiman al-Halabi and were pushing north towards other rebel-held neighbourhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"The regime is gradually advancing in Aleppo's centre and is pushing north towards Bustan al-Basha after street battles today," observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said on Tuesday.

"They are focusing on the tall buildings, which were once government administration buildings, because they can monitor entire streets and neighbourhoods from there," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Various reports indicate that more than 10,000 troops are amassing outside east Aleppo in a bid to recapture the rebel-held area and bring an end to the rebels' four-year fight against the Bashar al-Assad government.

If loyalist fighters seize Bustan al-Basha and other rebel-controlled areas in the city's north, they will confine opposition factions to a small section of the southeast.

Backed by Russian warplanes, Syria's army began a major military campaign to capture the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo, once the country's commercial hub, on 22 September.

UN rights chief calls for end of veto

The government's latest advance comes after bombardment of Aleppo's eastern quarters killed 13 people including a child on Monday, the monitor said.

And according to state news agency SANA, one person was killed and at least 15 wounded in rebel shelling of the government-held west of the city. 

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has decried the "ghastly avalanche of violence and destruction" in eastern Aleppo, saying 100 children had been killed there in the past 10 days.

He urged the Security Council to introduce a limit on its members' veto power, to prevent countries like Russia blocking the referral of Syria's conflict to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The army is fighting on the city's northern outskirts, inside the city centre, and on the southern edges near the Sheikh Saeed district. 

Sheikh Saeed came under heavy government fire overnight, although it was quieter by dawn, an AFP correspondent in the eastern districts said. 

US halts talks with Russia

Russia's foreign ministry said its embassy compound in Damascus had been hit in mortar shell fire on Monday, causing damage but no casualties.

The United States on Monday suspended negotiations with Russia that were seeking to revive a failed ceasefire in Syria and set up military co-ordination to target militants.

US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Washington's decision to halt talks did not mean it was "abandoning the pursuit of peace".

However Middle East Eye last week also reported on the US allowing two Gulf states to begin shipments of man-portable systems to rebels in east Aleppo, in response to the intense bombardment of the city. 

"The US confirmed the green light to begin sending them to rebels through supply routes still open through Jordan and Turkey," the source said. "Rebels are being told only to target Syrian helicopters, not Russian - but it's not clear they will abide by this.

"The US won't let Aleppo fall. We can expect to see Syrian helicopters falling from the sky within weeks."

Once Syria's commercial powerhouse, Aleppo has been ripped apart by the country's five-year civil war, which has killed more than 300,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

This latest development comes after the largest hospital in east Aleppo was "completely destroyed" after heavy bombardment by Syrian government and Russian warplanes after it was targeted seven times in the last week.

The waterworks serving more than 250,000 people in east Aleppo was also reportedly destroyed last week after it was hit by warplanes and artillery shells.  

US officials on Saturday said that thousands of troops from across the Shia world were massing for a final assault on Aleppo - including Syrian army soldiers, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hizbollah fighters, Iraqi militiamen and Afghan mercenaries.

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the US State Department, told the Telegraph that forces are "massing for some kind of assault on Aleppo". When asked how long before the city fell to the militia groups, he said: "It could be soon."