BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian government troops pushed deeper into the rebel-held section of Aleppo on Sunday, now controlling about half of what had been for years the rebels’ enclave in the divided northern city.
Also on Sunday, airstrikes apparently carried out by the government or its ally Russia hit the towns of Maarat al-Noaman and Kafr Nabl in rebel-held Idlib Province. The strikes killed at least 20 people in each location, according to residents and White Helmets rescue workers. Footage from Maarat al-Noaman showed destroyed buildings and market stalls, and the crushed body of a toddler.
Airstrikes and shelling also continued in Aleppo, where there was no sign of a cease-fire in a bloody battle that could prove a fulcrum in the war. If the government manages to seize all of Aleppo, it will control Syria’s five largest cities.
Government troops, along with allied, Iranian-backed militias from Iraq and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, appeared close on Sunday to seizing the only remaining bulge of rebel territory north of the medieval citadel at the heart of the city, leaving rebels with a shrinking enclave in the southeast.
Residents contacted by phone and text message said conditions were dire. People fleeing from the recently retaken areas were looking for places to sleep, while some smashed wooden furniture from destroyed houses for cooking and heating. They also sent text messages with their last farewells, saying they expected to die.
All of this unfolded under continuous government bombing and artillery shelling, which was worsening as pro-government ground troops edged closer.
Nor did the advances halt the shelling of the government-held western districts. Fares Shehabi, a Parliament member from Aleppo, said that nine people were killed on Saturday and that the military hospital and a hotel had been hit. Dozens of shells fell on Sunday, killing several people, other residents said.
More than 31,000 people have fled from the rebel-held eastern districts, aid agencies say. Some are fleeing to government-held territory; some deeper into the besieged, rebel-held districts; and others to areas controlled by Kurdish militias from which they can make their way along a risky route to rebel-held areas in Idlib and northern Aleppo Province.
On Sunday, Russian troops helped deliver aid to thousands of people crammed into what had been shops in a covered market in Jibreen, a government-held town south of the city.
Some people told reporters from The Associated Press and the BBC on the scene with government minders that they were happy to have food. Some said they had fled airstrikes, and others complained about treatment by the rebels.
Of those remaining in the area, some said they were afraid to leave because they expected to be arrested or mistreated on the other side. Now, though, they were worried that the army may be coming to them.
“It is very dangerous,” Yasser Hmeish, a resident, said via text message, showing a photo of himself making tea over a fire from scraps of wood from his destroyed house. “We are afraid for our families.”
A proposal by Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy, for a cease-fire, aid delivery and local autonomy for eastern Aleppo in exchange for the departure of several hundred Qaeda-linked fighters has gone nowhere. Russia is now offering to talk to the United States about the departure of all rebels — several thousand fighters, some of them backed by Washington and its allies.
Tensions were rising between the Qaeda-linked group, the Levant Conquest Front, formerly known as the Nusra Front, and the other groups, according to fighters in the enclave. Some accused the Levant Conquest Front of raiding food and weapons storehouses that belonged to other groups, including Faylaq al-Sham, one of those receiving American aid. One fighter from a rival group said the looted goods had been left unguarded in the chaos.
The airstrikes in Idlib Province killed 23 people in Maarat al-Noaman, including seven members of one family, one of them a child. In Kafr Nabl, 26 people were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with an extensive network on the ground.
Jihad, a telecommunications engineer in Kafranbel, said the strike hit a busy area, and that he knew 13 of the victims.
“There is a well where people get water, and there is a bakery,” he said, asking to be identified by only his first name for safety. “There were only a few minutes between me and the strikes.”