Middle East

Syria conflict: Army 'blocks key road from rebel-held Aleppo'

Syrian children play in the wreckage of a car in Aleppo's al-Myassar district (16 February 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Government forces are reportedly aiming to completely surround Aleppo's rebel-held areas

Syrian government forces have captured several villages north of Aleppo as they seek to cut a key supply route for rebels inside the city, activists say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy fighting had stopped traffic on the main road to the Turkish border.

Government forces were also battling rebels in several villages to the north of the city as well, it added.

Aleppo has been divided between rebel and government control since fighting erupted in the city in mid-2012.

But soldiers, backed by pro-government militiamen and fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, have made steady advances since launching an offensive to retake the rebel-held west of the city last year.

'Two goals'

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group that monitors the three-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, said government forces blocked the road leading from rebel-held north-eastern Aleppo to Turkey on Monday morning.

Clashes had also erupted between rebels and troops in the villages of Hardatain and Ratain, following the fall of Bashkuwi and Sifat, it added.

The Observatory's director, Rami Abdul Rahman, said government forces were also shelling the town of Hayan, which lies on the road to two pro-government villages that have been besieged by the rebels for more than 18 months.

"The regime troops have two goals in the area: to cut the road leading from Aleppo to the Turkish border, which is the key supply road for the rebels, and to open the way to Nubl and Zahraa," Mr Abdul Rahman told the AFP news agency.

On Monday, the pro-government al-Watan newspaper reported that government forces aimed to completely surround Aleppo this week in a major offensive against the rebels.

Analysts say the government's progress has reduced the chance of a local ceasefire, or "freeze zone", in the city that UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura has proposed.

On Monday, the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), an alliance of rebel fighters that do not belong to hardline Islamist groups, accused Mr de Mistura of being "biased" and taking a "dishonest position towards the revolution of the Syrian people".

It followed comments on Friday by the UN envoy, in which he called President Assad "part of the solution for the reduction of the violence", which the UN says has killed more than 220,000 people.

Mr de Mistura's spokeswoman said there was "concern" over the RCC's statement.

Aleppo-based rebels and opposition activists have expressed concerns that the government will exploit any local truces to redeploy its forces to fight elsewhere, and have questioned how they will work with jihadist militants from the Islamic State group in the area.