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, while Assad regime accused them of using chemical attacks againt civilians.
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.
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) October 30, 2016
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) October 30, 2016
Assad regime’s reinforcing positions, launching counteroffensive
On Sunday, a Syrian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the government was reinforcing its positions in and around the city to repel rebel advances.
The observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said about 1,000 government artillery troops arrived in Aleppo from central Syria on Saturday to take part in the counteroffensive. He estimated between 2,000 and 2,500 rebel fighters were taking part.
Russian planes resumed heavy bombing of the rebels’ new locations in west Aleppo – the latter also cited on pro-government sites.
Russia and the Syrian government have halted air strikes on the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo since last week to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians. However, opposition forces said that halt ended on last Saturday after 3 days of its start and the government resumed its air attacks.
Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the first responders team the Syrian Civil Defense that operates in rebel-held Aleppo, said airstrikes Sunday on districts near the front line caused material damage. He also said government artillery shelling killed three people and wounded seven Sunday.
A day earlier, artillery shelling killed a member of the civil defence team, also known as White Helmets, al-Haj said.
The army said it had launched an offensive with allied forces on several fronts in the west and east of Aleppo and recaptured the village of Minian on the western edge of the city, taken at the start of the campaign, and had ambushed rebels who had infiltrated some buildings in Dahiyat al Assad.
Rebels denied that Minian had fallen.
Gas attacks and exchanging accusations
Syrian state media said militants had fired shells containing chlorine gas at a residential area of the regime-held western part of the city, al-Hamdaniya. Rebels denied that, and said government forces had fired poison gas on another frontline.
The observatory said several civilians were reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following the attack in al-Hamadaniyeh on Sunday. But Abdurrahman couldn’t not confirm or deny if this was due to use of toxins.
State media cited an Aleppo hospital director saying three dozen people – civilians and soldiers – had suffered suffocation in the alleged rebel gas attack, but did not report any deaths.
The Syrian state news agency Sana said 48 people were treated for breathing difficulties. State TV showed residents and medics wearing masks rushing people into a hospital.
Opposition fighters and the government have exchanged accusations of using chemical attacks on their respective areas.
A rebel spokesman dismissed government accusations they used gas. Idriss Raad, a member of Faylaq al-Sham rebel group, said the opposition did not possess such weapons and would not attack areas with its own supporters. “The rebel would not target his people,” he said in an exchange of messages.
The rebels said the army had shelled rebel-held Rashideen district with chlorine and shared videos purportedly showing victims with respiratory problems.
— maytham (@maytham956) October 31, 2016
— مـعـــاذ (@22_jussy) October 31, 2016
Chlorine-filled barrel bombs dropped on al-Rashideen, Aleppo by Assad regime have left many civilians suffocating & struggling to breathe. pic.twitter.com/9FRcx4hczi
— هادي العبدالله Hadi (@HadiAlabdallah) October 31, 2016
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.