Wed, Aug 10, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Rebels, army brace for Aleppo battle

REINFORCEMENTS:About 2,000 pro-regime fighters from Iraq, Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah have arrived in Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said


Fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham drive a tank after seizing key positions south of Aleppo on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Syrian regime forces and rebel factions on Monday sent hundreds of reinforcements to Aleppo as both sides braced for a crucial battle to control the country’s second city.

Fighting for Syria’s former economic powerhouse is intensifying after an opposition advance at the weekend broke through a three-week government siege of the city’s rebel-held east, dealing a major setback to regime troops.

Rebel forces on Sunday announced a bid to capture all of Aleppo city, which if successful would mark the biggest opposition victory yet in Syria’s five-year civil war.

However, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are putting up a fierce fight and have begun pouring in reinforcements.

The main opposition coalition on Monday said it was only a matter of time before rebels take all of Aleppo, but the US warned there would be no quick victory.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 2,000 pro-regime fighters from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah had arrived in Aleppo since late Sunday.

“Both sides are amassing their fighters in preparation for the great battle of Aleppo,” observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Al-Watan, a Syrian daily close to the government, on Monday reported that the army had received “the necessary military reinforcements to launch the battle to retake the areas from which it withdrew.”

It said a military operation by Syria’s armed forces was “imminent... and inevitable.”

Aleppo has been roughly divided between government forces in the west and rebel groups in the east since fighting first broke out there in mid-2012.

After years of stalemate, fighting for the city entered a new phase last month when government forces took control of the last supply road into rebel areas, surrounding about 250,000 people in eastern districts.

In a desperate bid to break the siege, a coalition of rebels and extremists on Saturday overran a series of buildings in a military academy on the southwestern edges of Aleppo before linking up with rebel groups inside the city.

Emboldened by the victory, the fighters — largely grouped under the banner of the Army of Conquest — set their sights on recapturing all of Aleppo.

The Army of Conquest on Sunday announced “the start of a new phase to liberate all of Aleppo,” pledging to “double the number of fighters for this next battle.”

In Istanbul, Syrian National Coalition chief Anas al-Abdeh said he was confident the whole city could now be taken: “I think it is just a matter of time.”

“Neither side will be able to win a swift or decisive victory in the battle for Aleppo,” Washington’s UN envoy Samantha Power said.

Abdel Rahman said hundreds of opposition fighters had arrived in Aleppo from the surrounding province and neighboring Idlib.

Most were from the Fateh al-Sham Front, formerly al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, that leads the Army of Conquest.

“Whoever wins [in Aleppo], the war will not end. It is however an important battle, the result of which will set the course of the conflict,” Syria expert Thomas Pierret said.

The rebel advance at the weekend cut off a key regime access route on the city’s southern edges, previously used to ferry supplies to about 1.2 million residents in western districts.

Overnight, regime forces brought in trucks carrying food and fuel into western neighborhoods via the northern Castello Road instead, the observatory said.

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