Syrian troops say they control 98 percent of eastern Aleppo

In this Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 photo, Syrian army soldiers fire their weapons during a battle with insurgents at the Ramouseh front line, east of Aleppo, Syria. The Syrian military said on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, that it had gained control of 98 percent of eastern Aleppo, previously a rebel-held enclave, leaving only a small sliver of territory in the city packed with rebels and civilians who are being squeezed under fire. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT — The Syrian military said today it has gained control of 98 percent of eastern Aleppo, previously a rebel-held enclave, reducing the rebel territory to a small sliver packed with civilians and fighters squeezed under fire.

A Syrian rebel spokesman said opposition fighters are retreating in eastern Aleppo under intense government fire that is putting thousands of civilians at risk, calling the collapse “terrifying.”

The military statement came hours after Syrian forces, aided by Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, took Sheik Saeed, one of the largest neighborhoods in the southern part of the rebel territory, tightening the noose on the enclave.

The military also said its multi-pronged ground push today captured the al-Fardous neighborhood, one of the most populated districts to the north of Sheik Saeed. Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the district remains under fire and that fighting continues there. He estimated that about seven percent of the enclave remains under rebel control.

“The situation is very, very critical,” said Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the Syrian Civil Defense. “The military took many areas and we are now squeezed.” Al-Haj had been on the move to find a place to keep him and his family away from the clashes and possible government capture.

Bassam Haj Mustafa, a senior member of the rebel Nour el-Din el-Zinki group who is in contact with fighters inside the city, said earlier today the fighters are doing “their best to defend what is left.”

“The collapse is terrifying,” he said in a message to reporters.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled to government-held western Aleppo since the offensive began last month. But tens of thousands remain trapped in the ever-shrinking eastern enclave.

A rebel fighter from inside Aleppo, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the fall of Sheik Saeed means the fall of the enclave’s only mill and grains warehouse, which leaves the territory without access to bread or flour.

Most of the remaining civilians have now gathered in two or three neighborhoods, packing thousands in a small space and threatening large casualty tolls in any new attack, he said.