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IS, regime showdown in Aleppo as rebels jostle for turf

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GROUND ZERO: Opposition forces caught between the regime and the rapidly advancing Islamic State (IS) in northern Aleppo appear to be realizing that they may be driven out from the region that has served as their stronghold throughout the war.

“Great efforts are being made now in order to activate the [military] operations rooms between the rebel factions,” Abdul Karim Abu Firas, a media spokesperson for the Islamic Front, told Syria Direct Monday, “in addition to a high level of coordination between the Islamic Front, Noor al-Din Zanki, Haraka Hazam and other opposition groups in northern Aleppo.”

“IS is trying to control Sawran and Marea except that they have been surprised by the strong defensive lines formed there by the gathering of opposition battalions from all over Aleppo.”

IS gains in the past week in the towns of Akhterin, Dabiq and Turkmen Bareh have positioned the IS to capture of the town Azaz and the nearby border crossing to Turkey, Bab a-Salama. If IS were to control the border crossing, they could effectively cut off rebel supply lines, choking them out of the region.

On Monday, IS targeted the towns of Sawran and Marea, one of the few remaining opposition bases in the area, with heavy tank fire in anticipation of seizing the border, according to pro-opposition news Aksalser. Marea is a stronghold for the Islamic Front, a coalition of opposition groups that drove the IS out of the region earlier this year.

In July, the regime gained control of the strategic industrial city of Sheikh Najjar, just northeast of Aleppo city, which had been under rebel control since the beginning of the war.

Even the regime seems to gearing up for a final showdown around Syria’s largest city.

“A major battle in Aleppo is about to happen,” pro-regime DP News said Monday, “in light of the race to prepare the battlefield between the Syrian Army, IS and an alliance between the remainder of the armed opposition groups.”

The regime has launched a major aerial campaign over the last several days against IS-controlled A-Raqqa, its de facto base in Syria, while also reportedly striking IS-controlled al-Bab, Akhterin and Manbij in Aleppo province on Monday.

-August 18, 2014

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