Aleppo: battles continue on Saturday, Assad regime launches new Attack

A rebel fighter in Marea city shoots a weapon towards Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) controlled Tell Rifaat town, northern Aleppo province, Syria October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Assad regime forces launched a counteroffensive Saturday under the cover of airstrikes in an attempt to regain control of areas they had lost to rebel forces the day before in the city of Aleppo, while rebels continued their military operation aiming at breaking the regime’s siege.

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.

On Friday 29 October the rebel forces started a new military operation, 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 operation continued on Saturday. the rebels were able to capture much of the western neighborhood of Assad where a majority of Saturday’s fighting was concentrated, according to the Syrian army and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said the new offensive by Syrian troops and their allies went under the cover of Russian and Syrian airstrikes but government forces did not succeed in regaining control of areas they lost. The group said the fighting and airstrikes are mostly on Aleppo’s western and southern edges.

Local sources said rebels entered the village of Minian west of Aleppo on Saturday afternoon after intense fighting with government forces.

Advancing in new areas

Later Saturday, the rebels said they launched an attack on the Zahraa neighborhood in western Aleppo to try to capture it from government forces. The attack began with a massive explosion that struck government positions on the front line, said Yasser al-Yousef of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group, a main faction in Aleppo.

A reporter inside the city for the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel confirmed that the rebels have attacked the Zahraa neighborhood. As he spoke from the roof of a building, sounds of heavy gunfire could be heard in the background.

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.

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.

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

Pro-regime militias defend their positions

The obervatory said army forces, backed by Hezbollah militants and seeking to put down a new rebel offensive, on Saturday retook pockets of neighborhoods where rebel fighters a day earlier unleashed a series of deadly car bombings and mortar assaults.

The rebel offensive was repelled in part by renewed Russian and Syrian airstrikes targeting parts of west, south and southwest Aleppo, SOHR reported.

The Syrian army said troops were repelling the attack on Zahraa. It said the offensive began when the rebels detonated a vehicle and shelled the area.

The Observatory said the intense fighting was continuing after sunset, adding that government forces detonated explosives and bombs they planted earlier in the area in an attempt to repel the offensive on Zahraa.

Also, Assad regime’s airstrikes and shelling in the Salaheddine neighborhood killed at least three people and wounded five others, according to SOHR. Rebels countered with intense shelling that wounded more than 12 people in regime-held positions in western parts of the city.

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.