Aleppo children
Children inspect rubble of damaged buildings in a rebel-held besieged area in Aleppo on 6 November Abdalrhman Ismail / Reuters

Bashar al-Assad is poised to take back the whole of Aleppo from rebel forces after seizing key opposition neighbourhoods in the besieged east of the city. His army has split rebel-held territory in Syria's second city in half after a two week offensive backed by Russian air strikes.

As many as 10,000 civilians fled the east of the city, where some 250,000 still live among the ruins of what was once Syria's commercial and financial hub. The Syrian army captured the rebel-held area of al-Shakour just days after gaining control of two other districts, Jabal Badro and Hanano.

"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," a member of Jabha Shamiya, one of the largest rebel groups, told Reuters.

Hours later, both Syrian state TV and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the entire district had fallen to Assad's forces. Russia's defence ministry said that Syrian government forces had taken back 40% of rebel held territory in Aleppo.

The residents that remain in eastern Aleppo are not only under heavy military bombardment but are suffering a severe shortage of food, after UN access was cut off to rebel areas of the city on November 13. The head of the Syria Civil Defence – known as the White Helmets – told al-Jazeera on November 25 that inhabitants had just 10 days before they ran out of food completely.

Aleppo November 2016
ibtimes.co.uk

Less than a week ago, United Nationals Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien said the humanitarian crisis in Syria was a source of shame for the entire world. "I am more or less at my wit's end," O'Brien said in New York, "shame on us all for not acting to stop the annihilation of eastern Aleppo and its people [...]."

Bana Alabed, the seven-year-old Syrian girl that has attracted almost 140,000 followers on Twitter since she and her mother began tweeting from besieged Aleppo in September, said that her house had been destroyed in the fighting. Later her mother, Fatemah, said that the family were on the run: "Many people killed right now in heavy bombardment. We are fighting for our lives."

Many have speculated that the assault, which began a fortnight ago, was linked to the election of Donald Trump as US President on November 9. Trump had intimated during his campaign that he was open to a rapprochement with Putin over Russia's involvement in Syria, which was condemned by Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry.

But the rebels have also lost support from powerful regional backers, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both embroiled in conflicts closer to home. Riyadh is still fighting a war in Yemen while also wrestling with an economic crisis provoked by the global crash in oil prices. Turkey's interests in Syria, meanwhile, has shifted to the north, where it is trying to stem Kurdish influence in the battle against Islamic State.

"The rebels suddenly find themselves without the external support that they have relied on. And that is playing out on the ground," said Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Barnes-Dacey said that once Aleppo falls, Russia may encourage Assad to pick up talks with the various factions fighting in Syria's civil war. But the Syrian leader may prefer to seize the opportunity to take back the entire country. "There is the sense that [Assad] will see this as a vindication and a springboard to gain control of the entire country," he said.