Mon, Oct 19, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Syrian army, allies advance in Aleppo

DIVIDED CITY:Control of Syria’s pre-war economic hub has been split between government forces and rebel groups such as Nusra and Islamic State since mid-2012

AFP, BEIRUT

Birds fly over Syrian flags in Damascus on Friday after a youth movement hoisted the national flag as part of a program called “Your flag will always be high, oh Syria.”

Photo: EPA

Syrian regime forces edged forward in the northern province of Aleppo on Saturday with air cover from Russian warplanes, but faced fierce resistance from rebel forces in the country’s center.

Since Moscow began its air campaign in support of its Damascus ally on Sept. 30, the army and its allies have launched four ground offensives against rebel forces in northern and central Syria, the latest push forward in a years-long conflict that a monitor said has killed more than 250,000 people.

Syrian troops have gone on the attack in Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Latakia provinces, taking advantage of Russian air strikes against al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups.

Control of Aleppo — Syria’s pre-war economic hub — has been divided since mid-2012, with government forces controlling the western part of the city while much of the surrounding province is held by rebel groups, ranging from Nusra and others in the west to the Islamic State group (IS) in the east.

The front lines there and in the surrounding countryside have long been static.

Three senior Nusra members, one of them a US-designated “global terrorist,” were killed in an air strike in Aleppo Province on Thursday, a monitoring group said on Saturday.

And regime troops seized at least five villages and several strategic hilltops on Saturday, bringing them to the edges of Al-Hader, just south of Aleppo, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Taking the village would provide the government a key supply route between Aleppo and the central province of Hama, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

He said that over the previous 24 hours, 17 rebels and eight pro-regime fighters had been killed, while around 2,000 families had fled the fighting. In all, more than 250,000 people had been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, he said.

Meanwhile, a Syrian military source said troops were also advancing on Kweyris military airport east of Aleppo, which has been under siege by IS fighters.

If the army secures the air base, it could be used by Russian planes — currently flying out of the Hmeimim base in Latakia Province on the Mediterranean coast — to launch strikes, the Observatory said.

Russian planes carried out 39 sorties and hit 51 Islamic State targets over the past 24 hours, Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Ministry of Defense as saying yesterday.

The aircraft hit targets in Hama, Latakia, Damascus and Aleppo regions, it added.

A US official said as many as 2,000 fighters from Iran and its regional allies were supporting the Syrian army’s offensive in coordination with Russia, while Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian pledged Tehran would step up its military support for the regime.

Russia’s military said it was continuing to use its drones over Syrian territory, despite suspicions that one was downed by Turkey on Friday.

The Observatory on Saturday said that nine Russian air strikes had struck the village and its surroundings, where regime forces were locked in heavy fighting despite the air support.

In Moscow on Saturday, about 200 people demonstrated against Russia’s air campaign, with police arresting one woman with a banner reading, “Putin assassin, don’t bring shame on Russia.”

Syria’s opposition coalition has also called for “urgent action to put an end to the Russian aggression.”

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