Aleppo battle: Syrian rebels advance against Assad regime

Aleppo battle: Syrian rebels advance against Assad regime
A rebel fighter reacts while riding a military vehicle in Dahiyat al-Assad, west Aleppo city, Syria October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

Syrian rebels staged a counterattack in Aleppo with heavy shelling of government-held areas and suicidal attacks and were able to advance on various fronts according to rebel sources.

The Syrian rebels have launched in July an offensive to break regime’s siege on the eastern part of Aleppo, but the offensive stopped after a few days and the siege worsened.

After that Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 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 19 September.

The new assault, employing heavy shelling and suicide car bombs, was mainly focused on the city’s western edge by rebels based in the countryside outside Aleppo. It included Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a former affiliate of al Qaeda previously known as the Nusra Front, and groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a British-based monitoring group, said rebel have launched a preparatory attack with hundreds of shells and rockets on various western neighborhoods of the city and killed more than 15 civilians and wounded 100 others in government-held western Aleppo on Friday.

Friday’s attack began with rebels detonating three vehicle-borne explosives against government positions to the city’s southwest and attacking with hundreds of rockets, the Observatory said. It said at least one of the vehicles was driven by a suicide bomber for Fatah al-Sham, which also announced the offensive.

Photographs showed insurgents approaching Aleppo in tanks, armored vehicles, bulldozers, make-shift mine sweepers, pick-up trucks and on motorcycles, and showed a large column of smoke rising in the distance after an explosion.

Fateh al-Sham said in a statement that rebels had gained control over Dahiyet al-Assad, a suburb with a low-rise residential district of about a square kilometer on the southwest corner of the city.

Jaysh al-Fatah and Fatah Halab operations room declared capturing the Warehouse Berm and al-Soura checkpoints near Dhahiyat al-Assad area. Opposition fighters also captured Mansher Manyan and the Cardboard Factory, west of Aleppo

Zakaria Malahifji, an official with Fastaqim, a nationalist rebel group in the offensive, said insurgents had captured the residential area but not the whole of Dahiyet al-Assad. The Observatory said rebels had gained most of the suburb.

Jaysh al-Fatah factions were able to kill a number of the Iranian militants in addition to capturing a group of others during the ongoing military operation.

The media office of opposition fighters’ Ajnad al-Sham, operating within Jaysh al-Fatah ranks, confirmed capturing a group of the Iraqi mercenaries of Harakat al-Nujaba and Hezbollah militants during the storming of Jaysh al-Fatah fighters of the Iranian mercenaries’ positions in Dhahiyat al-Assad, west of Aleppo.

Also, a number of Hezbollah militants were killed, including a field commander during the fighting to the west of Aleppo, the media office of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham said.

However, the Assad regime said it had repelled offensives on several fronts around Aleppo by both rebel groups and militants from so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

“Booby-trapped cars, two tanks and a large number of armored vehicles” were destroyed, the defence ministry said on its website.

Rebels opened a corridor to the east for the month of August after pro-government forces first applied a blockade in July, but they were not able to hold it as the government and its Russian ally pounded the gap with artillery and airstrikes. Pro-government forces reapplied the siege in early September.

The area has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.

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 and nearly ending the revolution aiming at ousting him.