Aleppo: Syrian rebels advance, breaking siege operation escalates

Aleppo: Syrian rebels advance, breaking siege operation escalate

The Syrian rebels opened a new front in Aleppo on Sunday as fighting spread on the third day of a major rebel counter-attack to break the regime’s siege of the opposition-held part of the city.

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.

Syrian rebels on Sunday kept up their shelling of regime-controlled areas of the city, killing at least seven people, including three children, state TV reported, and used car bombs and tanks to push into new territory in western areas. The Syrian regime claimed the opposition fighters used toxic gas.

In a statement late Saturday, the rebel alliance warned residents of frontline regime-held areas to stay indoors or use shelters, declaring them a military zone.

Videos posted by Fatah al-Sham group showed rebels advancing into the neighborhood in tanks and other military vehicles. The group’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, appeared in pictures discussing battlefield details with field commanders over a map.

In a new death toll on Sunday, the SOHR monitor said fighting had also killed at least 55 government troops and allied fighters, as well as 64 Syrian rebels.

About 1,500 rebels have massed on a 15-km front along the western edges of Aleppo since Friday, scoring quick gains in the Dahiyet al-Assad district, but struggling to push east since then.

“The advance will be from Dahiyet al-Assad towards Hamdaniyeh,” said Yasser al-Youssef of the Noureddin al-Zinki rebel faction.

Hamdaniyeh is a government-held district directly adjacent to opposition-controlled eastern neighbourhoods.

Rebels and pro-regime sites said most of Sunday’s fighting concentrated on the 3000 Apartments housing project in the al-Hamdaniya area. Capturing it would bring the rebels to within several kilometers of the heart of the regime-controlled area.

“There are heavy street battles and the regime is now retreating from the area. Its only a matter of time and we will announce its liberation,” Abu al Ansari, a fighter from Failaq al Sham, said in a Whatsapp message.

Rebels said the attack had started with preparatory shelling earlier in the day.

A state TV presenter, Shadi Halwi, said in a video post on his Facebook page that for the first time in government-held Aleppo, “the sound of clashes is strong, very loud.”

Since launching the large scale assault on Friday, the rebels have deployed numerous suicide car bombs undertaken by radical Islamic groups, including the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, a jihadist group operating in Syria.

The rebels’ use of scores of car bombs to breach army defense lines has helped them advance. The barrage of hundreds of mortars and missiles fired on the city’s western edge from bases in the countryside outside Aleppo has been the most intense bombardment by rebels in recent months.

The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has 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.

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.