12:40 GMT21 January 2021
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    Latest developments indicate that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies are set to fully liberate Aleppo in the near future, with political analyst and Middle East expert Ali Rizk telling Radio Sputnik that the embattled city could well become free of terrorists this week. What will Damascus-led forces do next?

    The battle for Aleppo marks a "very decisive phase" of the war which was sparked by a foreign-sponsored insurgency in 2011. "Most importantly, it will allow the [Syrian Arab Army] and its allies shift resources to focus elsewhere and cleanse the rest of the country," he said, naming the cities of Idlib, al-Bab and Raqqa as priority areas.

    On Tuesday, an unnamed source told RIA Novosti that the SAA assisted by self-defense forces took control over the entire northeastern part of rebel-held areas in Aleppo. Rizk suggested that the SAA's recent success on the battlefield gives Damascus "a great tactical advantage."

    Meanwhile, the Russian Centre for reconciliation of opposing sides in Syria reported that a large area of eastern Aleppo has been freed from the militants, adding that the liberated districts are home to 90,000 residents.

    The SAA encircled Aleppo in late July, launching an operation aimed at freeing one of the key urban centers in the country in September. Damascus-led forces achieved major success over the weekend, liberating several districts and cutting rebel-held areas into two parts.

    "The way things are going right now, I believe that [Aleppo's liberation] is possible during this week," Rizk said. "Aleppo could be completely cleared out. We've heard a lot about the collapse of morale of the armed groups."

    The political analyst further said that the outcome of the years-long Syrian War is already clear. "I think we reached the turning point in favor of the SAA and its allies months ago," he noted.

    Rizk warned against jumping to a conclusion that Aleppo's liberation equals the ultimate victory in the war.

    "People shouldn't assume that it will be the end. Victory takes place when the whole region is taken back," he said. "We have to be cautious. We can't say that al-Nusra Front has been completely defeated. I think that Idlib will also be a very important battle."

    The political analyst pointed out that a-Nusra Front and the Army of Conquest have been the key radical groups present in Aleppo.

    "I think what the Russians have been saying all along has proven to be right. The so-called rebel-held areas in Aleppo are actually terrorist-held areas. UN envoy [Staffan] de Mistura has referred to the fact that you have over 1,000 members of al-Nusra Front… in addition to other groups" in the city, he noted.


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    Syrian crisis, terrorist groups, Syrian conflict, counterterrorism, Syrian Arab Army, Al-Nusra Front, East Aleppo, Syria, Aleppo
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