Syria: Assad regime launches major ground attack on Aleppo

Syria: Assad regime launches major ground attack on Aleppo
A boy severely injured after Assad-Russian airstrikes n the rebel-held parts of Aleppo

After massive air raids for days, Assad regime forces launched a wide ground offensive on a rebel-held district of Aleppo, aiming at wiping out rebel forces and retaking a city that’s key to ending the five-year crisis.

Assad regime said on Thursday it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on Monday. the offensive is backed by Russian air force and Iranian militias, and includes a ground assault, artillery bombardment, and intensive airstrikes.

Since September 19, more than 400 civilians have been killed in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said on Monday.

Tuesday’s assault saw pro-government forces, which include the Syrian army and allied militia from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, attempt to attack Aleppo’s Old City near its historic citadel, as well as around several of the city’s major access points.

The commander of an Iraqi Shi’ite militia fighting in support of Assad told Reuters a large force had started to move in armored vehicles and tanks for an attack on rebel-held areas.

Senior combatants on both sides said pro-government forces were advancing in several parts of Aleppo.

Assad’s allies now openly say they have abandoned the peace process and are betting instead on military victory.

“There are no prospects for political solutions … the final word is for the battlefield,” the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shi’ite movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, was quoted in a Lebanese newspaper as saying on Tuesday.

The head of Iran’s National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, was quoted on Tuesday as saying Aleppo’s fate would be determined only “through a forceful confrontation”.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also said that his government will keep supporting Assad regime’s forces until they achieve full victory against the “terrorism.”

The United States says the assault on Aleppo is proof that President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and regional allies have abandoned an international peace process to pursue victory on the battlefield after nearly six years of civil war.

Advancement on the ground

A military official told AFP news agency that government forces “retook control of all of the Farafra district” and were now “demining the area”.

 The official said the advance “comes as a continuation of the military operation that was announced that includes an aerial component and an artillery and ground component”.

Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters told Al Jazeera that pro-government forces, including Shia militias, carried out “a ground push” in the Bab al-Antakya district.

In the district of Handarat, north of Aleppo, government forces also advanced against the rebels, he said.

Government fighter jets backed by Russia’s air force also continued to target the city and its outskirts. Video obtained by Al Jazeera showed the latest air strikes on Tuesday with rescue crews rushing to the scene to pull people from under the rubble.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, confirmed that government forces were advancing on the old quarter of the city.

“There was intense shelling earlier. It seemed the [government] was preparing for the attack,” said Ibrahim Alhaj, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence, volunteer first-responders also known as the “White Helmets”.

He added news from the front line suggests a large mobilization of pro-government militias in the old city.

A Syrian military official in Damascus told the AP news agency that operations in Aleppo will continue until “terrorists” in the eastern parts of the city are “wiped out”.

People feel helpless, desperate

Government fighter jets backed by Russia’s air force also continued to target the city and its outskirts. Video obtained by Al Jazeera showed the latest air strikes on Tuesday with rescue crews rushing to the scene to pull people from under the rubble.

The senior rebel official said pro-government forces were mobilizing near the rebel-held Sheikh Saeed district on the city’s southern outskirts, near the location of the heaviest fighting this summer in Aleppo.

“They are working to expand on any opening they create,” said the official from an Aleppo-based rebel faction, citing reports from his fighters.

Residents said bunker-busting bombs were dropped in the al-Shaar neighborhood killing 24 civilians, including 15 people from the same family.

A journalist said that people he spoke to “are literally terrified” at the prospect of a ground operation.

“They feel very helpless. They have completely given up on any kind of diplomatic effort. They have completely lost faith in what the international community is saying,” he said.

Only 30 remaining doctors are currently serving 250,000 people in east Aleppo, the Syrian American Medical Society reported on Friday.

The Assad regime forces have been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.

Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.