BEIRUT, Nov 26 (Reuters) - The Syrian army said it had taken control of an important district in rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Saturday after fierce fighting, with rebels blaming intense air strikes and lack of hospitals for their collapsing frontline.
Government forces advanced with a ground and air assault on the edge of the besieged eastern half of the city, a move the rebels say is designed to split their most important urban stronghold in two.
Aleppo, which was Syria's biggest city before the start of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, is divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east, where U.N. officials say at least 250,000 people are under siege.
Syrian refugees pack the stands inside the national stadium on the Greek island of Kos August 11, 2015. Local authorities are struggling to cope with the increasing numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast. Police ushered most migrants into the stadium, packing the stands, in order to speed up the registration process. Some migrants set up tents while police stood guard in riot gear. REUTERS/ Yannis Behrakis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian refugee girl stands behind a door at a makeshift settlement in the village of Ketermaya, south of Beirut January 8, 2015. A storm buffeted the Middle East with blizzards, rain and strong winds on Wednesday, keeping people at home across much of the region and raising concerns for Syrian refugees facing freezing temperatures in flimsy shelters. Snowfall and gales in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley destroyed some refugee tents. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho (LEBANON - Tags: CIVIL UNREST DISASTER ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY IMMIGRATION POVERTY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY CONFLICT)
A Syrian refugee gives thanks to God as he arrives in an overcrowded dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Syrian refugee girl Housaida rests inside the Spanish rescue vessel Astral after being rescued by the Spanish NGO Proactiva off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mina, an eight-year-old Syrian refugee girl holding a baby doll, and Saad, an eight-year-old Syrian refugee boy holding a toy gun, pose during the first day of Eid al-Adha at Yayladagi refugee camp in Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Murad Sezer (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS)
Syrian refugee Dania poses for a portrait at the Sacramento, California apartment complex she lives in, November 16, 2015. Dania and her family fled violence in Syria three and a half years ago and arrived in Sacramento in September after living in Jordan. Her face is excluded from the photo to protect his identity. To match Feature - FRANCE-SHOOTING/USA-MIGRANTS REUTERS/Max Whittaker
Zakaria, 10, an injured Syrian refugee boy, is fed by a nurse as he undergoes rehabilitation at a post traumatic care centre directed by Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM) in Hatay province August 13, 2012. Zakaria is the only survivor of his family, who have died during an Syrian Army helicopter attack in Idlib, UOSSM officials said. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS HEALTH TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SOCIETY)
A Syrian refugee screams at others to wait for him as he carries his daughter through a rainstorm towards Greece's border with Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. Most of the people flooding into Europe are refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries who have a legal right to seek asylum, the United Nations said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
A Syrian refugee baby is seen inside her family tent at Bib Salam refugee camp in Syria, near the Turkish border December 28, 2012. Russia invited the leader of Syria's opposition on Friday to visit for the first time, but the opposition swiftly dismissed a renewed call by Moscow for talks with President Bashar al-Assad's government to end the 21-month civil war. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah (SYRIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT)
Recent refugee from Syria Sandy Khabbazeh walks home in the dark from her concrete inspectors job in Oakland, New Jersey, November 20, 2015. Picture taken November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Migrants, who said they were from Syria, are being apprehended by the Serbian border police for having illegally entered the country from Macedonia, near the town of Presevo some 383 km (238 miles) from capital Belgrade, Serbia, April 29, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
A Syrian refugee woman pauses after fleeing from a refugee camp named "Container City" on the Turkish-Syrian border in Oncupinar in Kilis province, southern Turkey July 22, 2012. At the camp, police used tear gas to disperse a group of refugees angry about food and water shortages who were throwing stones at police, a Turkish official said. No serious injuries were reported at the camp. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
Hagop Manushian, a Syrian refugee who arrived earlier in the morning is reunited with his granddaughter Rita at the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto in Toronto, December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian refugee (C) tries to catch his breath as he stands in a crowded line to get registered in the national stadium of the Greek island of Kos, August 12, 2015. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) called on Greece to take control of the "total chaos" on Mediterranean islands, where thousands of migrants have landed. About 124,000 have arrived this year by sea, many via Turkey, according to Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR director for Europe. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A Syrian refugee burst into tears while contacting her father in Syria to inform him that she arrived safely on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 11, 2015. A refugee bottleneck on Greece's easternmost islands has eased after recent dangerous overcrowding, rescue agencies said on Friday, as thousands of migrants per day continue to arrive on the mainland. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis
A Syrian refugee girl covers herself with a thermal blanket after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos, November 6, 2015. Since the start of the year, over 590,000 people have crossed into Greece, the frontline of a massive westward population shift from war-ravaged Syria and beyond. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Syrian refugee Radwan Sheikho, 30, is seen among tents at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece, March 16, 2016. Picture taken March 16. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Syrian children play inside a refugee camp in Harmanli, 280 km (174 miles) east of Sofia December 9, 2013. Bulgaria is currently hosting some 8,800 asylum seekers and refugees, around two-thirds of them being Syrians, according to the UNHCR. Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest country, on average receives only around 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees a year. REUTERS/Pierre Marsaut (BULGARIA - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A Syrian refugee who fled the violence in Syria speaks to Reuters television at a temporary home in Amman November 14, 2011. King Abdullah of Jordan has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should step down in the interest of his country, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported on Monday. REUTERS/Ali Jarekji (JORDAN - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
Police officers escort Fatima from Syria (front) and other migrants as they make their way on foot after crossing the Croatian-Slovenian border, in Rigonce, Slovenia, October 22, 2015. Slovenia has asked the European Union for police to help regulate the inflow of migrants from Croatia, Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar told TV Slovenia. Over the past 24 hours, more than 10,000 migrants, many fleeing violence in Syria, have arrived in Slovenia, the smallest country on the Balkan migration route, on their way to Austria. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian refugee laughs as she arrives onboard a raft during a rainstorm on the Greek island of Lesbos October 22, 2015. Over half a million refugees and migrants have arrived by sea in Greece this year and the rate of arrivals is rising, in a rush to beat the onset of freezing winter, the United Nations said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Hungarian policemen detain a Syrian migrant family after they entered Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian refugee holds her child in her arms as she sits in the port of the Greek island of Kos waiting to be registered and move with her family to the "Eleftherios Venizelos" vessel August 15, 2015. United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) called on Greece to take control of the "total chaos" on Mediterranean islands, where thousands of migrants have landed. About 124,000 have arrived this year by sea, many via Turkey, according to Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR director for Europe. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
A Syrian refugee woman, who is stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders, holds her child as she cross into Jordan after a group of refugees had crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, at the Hadalat area, east of the capital Amman, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
Syrian migrant Assaf, 44, who was head of security for a government minister, covers his face to hide his identity as he poses for a photograph at an asylum camp outside Stockholm June 8, 2014. Assaf paid smugglers 8000 euros to get to Sweden. He travelled through the mountains to Turkey and then from Turkey to Greece by boat with dozens of others. He then travelled to Stockholm in a truck. When asked about his future he said, "What future? I am in a foreign country with my family living in danger thousands of miles away. There is no future until they are here." Some 15 percent of Sweden's population is foreign born, the highest level in the Nordic region. Asylum seekers in particular are drawn by Sweden's robust economy and tradition of helping refugees. The country ranks fourth in the number of asylum seekers and second relative to its population out of 44 industrialised nations, according to U.N. figures. Picture taken June 8, 2014. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (SWEDEN - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
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Capturing all of Aleppo would be a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after six and a half years of fighting.
The army said in a statement it had, alongside its allies, taken full control over the Hanano housing district, which is on the northeast frontline of the eastern sector.
"Engineering teams are removing mines and improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists in the squares and streets," the statement said. The Syrian government calls all forces fighting against it terrorists.
An official in an Aleppo rebel group said a map circulated by pro-government media showing government forces in control of the Hanano area was largely accurate.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring organization based in Britain, said the army had established control over Hanano, which was the first part of Aleppo taken over by armed opposition groups in 2012.
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.
"The revolutionaries are fighting fiercely but the volume of bombardments and the intensity of the battles, the dead and the wounded, and the lack of hospitals, are all playing a role in the collapse of these frontlines," said an official from Jabha Shamiya, one of the biggest groups fighting against Assad in northern Syria. Some of its members are fighting in Hanano.
He condemned the "international silence" and said the government and its allies were trying to exploit the period before the next U.S. administration took over.
"The Iranians, Russians and regime know there is a vacuum and they are trying to exploit it using all means," he said. "We are in touch with the friendly states but unfortunately Aleppo is being left to be slaughtered."
Yasser al-Yousef, from the political office of the Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group, said insurgents had fought fiercely for more than 48 hours to defend Hanano and the southern front of east Aleppo from heavy government bombardment.
A Syrian state television reporter broadcast live from a part of Hanano on Saturday as government forces sought to establish full control over the area. Gunshots could be heard and behind him damaged buildings and rising smoke could be seen.
Rebels say much of Hanano has been empty of residents for some months.
Syrian state media said the army had secured the safe passage of at least 150 people out of Hanano, and showed pictures of people it said were evacuated residents in a reception center.
In the 12 days since the renewed bombardment on east Aleppo, at least 201 civilians, including 27 children, have died in the besieged sector, the Observatory said. There were 134 rebel fighter deaths.
The monitor also documented 19 civilian deaths, including 11 children, and dozens of injuries as a result of rebel shelling of government-held west Aleppo. Rebel shelling into the Sheikh Maqsoud district, which is under the control of the Kurdish YPG militia, has killed three people, it said.
Syrian state news agency SANA said three people died and 15 were injured on Saturday when rebels fired rockets into government-held west Aleppo. (Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry; Editing by Helen Popper and Mark Trevelyan)