Ankara, Beirut-Residents of the eastern part of Aleppo, where Syrian forces clashed with armed opposition factions, received messages on Sunday from the regime giving opposition fighters 24 hours to leave the area.
The messages read: “Gunmen in east Aleppo, you have 24 hours only to take the decision to leave.”
“Those who want to save their lives must put down their weapons and their safety will be guaranteed. After the end of this period, the planned strategic offensive will begin,” the messages added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a Britain-based monitor, and an Agence France Presse correspondent in rebel-held east Aleppo reported clashes in the Karam al-Turab neighborhood and the village of Al-Aziza just outside the city.
The AFP correspondent said the fighting could be heard in much of the rebel-held east, which is surrounded by regime forces and has come under repeated assault since the army announced an operation to recapture it in September.
Meanwhile, Ankara warned on Sunday from any attempt to change the demographic structure of Aleppo, at a time when Turkish-backed Syrian opposition factions were positioned few kilometers away from the city of Al Bab, the last ISIS stronghold in Aleppo province.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister and spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said that Aleppo and Mosul in Iraq were two important cities, and the fate of the region is linked to the form those two cities will take in the future, warning from any attempts to introduce to them any demographic change.
On the battlefield, SOHR said: “Turkish-backed opposition fighters are now two kilometers north and northwest of the town of al-Bab, and are targeting it with artillery fire and air strikes.”
SOHR director Rami Abdelrahman said: “This progress is a continuation of the campaign that began with the capture of Jarablus and has seen the jihadists expelled from an area of 2,500 square kilometers along the border with Turkey.”
Mustafa Sijari, a commander with the Euphrates Shield Operation, said on Sunday that opposition factions were able to advance eight kilometers and arrived to the outskirts of al-Bab. However, Sijari said that controlling al-Bab would be very difficult.
“We expect fierce battles that will take some time,” he said.
Al-Bab is located 30 kilometers from the Turkish border.
While controlling al-Bab is part of the phase 3 of Euphrates Shield Operation, Sijari said that the fourth stage of the operation would be in the city of Manbij, not ruling out a confrontation with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) there.
“We received promises from the U.S. that the SDF forces would pull out from the city towards the eastern part of the Euphrates River to prevent a confrontation with our forces. If that’s not the case, then we will be forced to fight Kurds, something we do not wish to happen,” Sijari said.