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Aleppo: Syrian government forces make significant gains

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Syrian pro-government soldiers chat as they advance in Aleppo's rebel-held Bustan al-Basha neighbourhood on October 6, 2016. "Syrian regime forces advanced from the city centre north into (rebel-held) Bustan al-Basha, and seized a large athletic complex there," the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. This was the first time the regime had entered the district since 2013 and there had been fierce clashes, they added. This was the first time the regime had entered the district since 2013 and there had been fierce clashes, he added. / AFP / GEORGE OURFALIAN (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)

ALEPPO — Syrian government forces and their allies made significant gains in east Aleppo on Monday.

Ismail Abdallah, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence, also called the White Helmets, told CNN that al-Fardous neighborhood has been captured by Syrian government forces, while some areas of resistance remain in parts of the city.

“There is a mass exodus of terrified civilians fleeing from al-Fardous, al-Jaloom, al-Salheine and areas that have been captured today to other areas such as al-Mashhad and Salah Eddiene,” he said.

“It is going to be a very difficult situation because there is no place for all these fleeing civilians.

“We believe there are a large number of civilian casualties as a result of this intensifying offensive and White Helmets rescue workers are unable to move to reach any of these areas,” Abdallah added.

Syrian state television painted a different picture of the day’s events, broadcasting video that it said showed residents celebrating in the streets after government forces took control of a neighborhood.

READ: What you need to know about Aleppo

Earlier, Syria’s state-run news agency SANA and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group confirmed that the neighborhood of al-Sheikh Saeed in southeastern Aleppo had been captured by the Syrian military.

The neighborhood was taken from rebel forces with the assistance of government-allied groups.

Large numbers of civilians are also reportedly fleeing the al-Sukkari neighborhood after intense shelling. The exodus of residents coincided with regime forces advancing.

The SANA report states that army units are “continuing the operations and targeting the remnants of the terrorists who fled away towards” the al-Sukkari and al-Fardous neighborhoods.

In addition, there are reports of civilian casualties as a result of the shelling, according to media organizations with teams in Aleppo.

Failed attempts at peace

The international community has failed to broker a ceasefire for the city, which appears on the brink of falling back into regime control.

On Monday, Pope Francis reached out to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, asking him “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid,” according to a statement from the Vatican.

The Pope made the appeal in appointing Cardinal Mario Zenari to the position of Apostolic Nuncio to Syria.

The government controls western Aleppo and its troops have made significant territorial gains in the east since its forces entered the enclave by ground on November 27, backed by continual airstrikes. The government has now taken more than three-quarters of the area.

Rebel groups held eastern Aleppo for more than four years after the Arab Spring uprising, and a Syrian regime siege on the area had essentially cut it off from the outside world, sparking a humanitarian crisis there.

Now civilians are fleeing by the tens of thousands as the relentless airstrikes leave little hope of survival.

An estimated 10,000 people fled over the weekend, civilians told CNN — a number backed by Russian officials. SANA put the figure at around 20,000.

READ: Syrian regime forces seize most of old city

CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen witnessed thousands of civilians walking through the southern front lines, many gaunt with fatigue and malnutrition, as the children among them cried in fear.

It’s difficult to know how many civilians remain trapped in eastern Aleppo, but 100,000 are estimated to still be living in the enclave. Some are beginning to return to neighborhoods retaken by government forces, faced with the daunting task of rebuilding their homes and communities.

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