Aleppo: fear of massive upcoming Russian attacks to end rebels’ resistance

Aleppo: fear of massive upcoming Russian attacks to end rebels' resistance Syria
Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. © Oleg Lastochkin / Sputnik

As the Russian-announced 10-hour humanitarian pause in Aleppo ended on Friday without success, many observers had feared that Russia is preparing a massive assault to end the battle there.

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.

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.

Since 19 September, more than 800 civilians were killed and more than 2000 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.

There are about 275,000 people trapped by the siege of eastern Aleppo, where civilians are suffering through daily bombing, including by bunker-buster and incendiary weapons, and through starvation, as limited supplies run out and aid convoys are blocked from the city.

On Friday 29 October the rebel forces started a new military operation to break the siege imposed on 275.000 civilians in eastern Aleppo, employing heavy shelling and suicide car bombs, was mainly focused on the city’s western edge by rebels based in the countryside outside Aleppo.

Moscow declared a halt to airstrikes on eastern Aleppo on Oct. 18, but Syrian and Russian warplanes have continued to strike around the city’s edges and in the surrounding province.

Russia’s defense ministry announced then on Wednesday 2 November a new humanitarian pause and said that six exit routes will be open on Friday for ten hours, from 9am to 7pm, to allow civilians in eastern Aleppo to leave, along with two new exit routes for the fighters to withdraw from the area.

However, the duration ended without any civilians evacuated and with no rebels surrendering.

Russia hasn’t said what would happen after the pause failure, but the arrival of a Russian aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, into the Mediterranean and its heading to the Syrian coast suggested Moscow may intend to escalate its operations and deal one last blow to the rebels.

Photos of the vessels have been released by the Norwegian military two weeks ago. A Norwegian newspaper quoted the head of the Norwegian military intelligence service saying the ships involved “will probably play a role in the deciding battle for Aleppo”.

The chairman of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, Vladimir Shamanov, told state TV Rossiya 1 earlier this week that the carrier’s arrival in Syria is part of a rotation schedule and also “a show of the flag.”

On Saturday, Syria’s pro-government Sama TV said another Russian ship, the frigate Admiral Grigorovich, has arrived in the Mediterranean to “reinforce the other military ships already present at the Syrian coast.” Admiral Grigorovich is one of the most advanced classes of frigates in the Russian navy and can fire cruise missiles. There was no immediate word from the Russian Defense Ministry.

Read more: Russia sends new naval fleet to take part in Aleppo’s battle

Russian warships are carrying fighter bombers that are likely to reinforce a final assault on the besieged city of Aleppo in two weeks, a senior NATO diplomat said.

The NATO diplomat said the additional military firepower was designed to drive out or destroy the 8,000 rebels in Aleppo, the only large city still in opposition hands, and allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to start a withdrawal.

NATO officials also say that strategically, Russia’s air strikes are securing its interests by protecting Assad and Russia’s Syrian port in Tartous, which boosts its access to the Black Sea that it controls after taking the Crimean peninsula.

“With this assault, it should be enough to allow a Russian exit strategy if Moscow believes Assad is now stable enough to survive,” the diplomat said.

Russia launched an air campaign on September 30 last year in support of Syrian government forces, in a military intervention that has been widely credited with helping turn the balance of power in favour of President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia said its intervention aims at backing the Syrian government agaisnt ISIS and the other “terrorist groups” and they will not attack civilians.

 Since then, at least 9,364 people have been killed in Russian raids, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The monitor said the death toll included about 3,800 civilians and 5,500 fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS).

A further 20,000 civilians have been wounded in Russia’s year-long offensive of air strikes.

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.