Rebels' hold on eastern Aleppo collapses as troops move in


BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces captured more than a third of opposition-held eastern Aleppo today, touching off a wave of panic and flight from the besieged enclave as rebel defenses in the country's largest city rapidly collapsed.

The dramatic gains marked an inflection point in Syria's nearly 6-year-old conflict, threatening to dislodge armed opponents of President Bashar Assad from their last major urban stronghold.

Reclaiming all of Aleppo, Syria's former commercial capital, would be the biggest prize of the war for Assad. It would put his forces in control of the country's four largest cities as well as the coastal region, and cap a year of steady government advances.

It also would bolster his position and momentum just as a new U.S. administration is taking hold, freeing thousands of his troops and allied militiamen to move on to other battles around the country.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said the opposition's losses in Aleppo are the biggest since 2012.

"Aleppo city itself has also been a consistent base of moderate opposition activity, so its collapse spells what could be an existential blow to the moderate opposition from which it'll likely struggle to recover," he said.

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