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Syrian government forces take biggest rebel-held district of Aleppo

Capture of district may give army line-of-fire control over several other parts of city's rebel-held east
A cyclist on Saturday makes his way through dust and rubble of damaged buildings after an air strike on rebel-held east Aleppo, Syria (Reuters)

Syrian government forces have taken "full control" of the rebel-held district of Masaken Hanano in the northern battlefield city of Aleppo, state media said on Saturday.

State television said "the armed forces retook full control" of the largest rebel district in the east of the city, and official news agency SANA said operations were now underway to clear it of mines and bombs.

"The armed forces retook full control of Masaken Hanano after having put an end to the presence of terrorists there," the state broadcaster said, referring to the rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The capture of Masaken Hanano in the northeast of Aleppo could give the army line-of-fire control over several other parts of the city's rebel-held east. Capturing all of Aleppo would be a major victory for Assad after more than six years of fighting.

A renewed air assault on residential and frontline parts of east Aleppo began last Tuesday after a weeks-long pause in air strikes and shelling there.

Government forces had been advancing inside the neighbourhood for several days, and on Friday state television said they were progressing "from three axes".

The operation is part of a major offensive now in its 12th day to take back all of Aleppo, Syria's second city and its economic capital before the war broke out in March 2011.

Since 15 November, government bombardment of east Aleppo has killed 212 civilians, including 27 children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP on Saturday that the government forces were in control of 80 percent of Masaken Hanano and had the rest in their line of fire.

"They [are] just hundreds of metres away from isolating the northern districts of east Aleppo from the southern ones," he said.

More than 250,000 civilians have been trapped under siege for months in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, with dwindling food and fuel supplies.

The battleground city in northern Syria has been divided between the government-controlled western areas and the rebel-held eastern districts since 2012.

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