Rebels assault regime supply lines in Hama ahead of Aleppo showdown

AMMAN: Jabhat a-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) captured a regime checkpoint near the last regime-held highway connecting Aleppo to its cities due south in what looks like the early stages of a new rebel offensive to capture Aleppo, reported pro-Kurdish ARA news on Monday.

“The Hama-Aleppo highway is now in the rebels’ crosshairs–it’s the regime’s principal land route for resupplying its forces on the Aleppo front,” Hussein al-Khitab, a Hama-based journalist told Syria Direct on Monday.

The Hama-Aleppo highway consists of several roads connecting regime strongholds, snaking east through Salamiyah before swinging north through Ithriya and Khanaser on the road to Aleppo.

“Cutting off regime supplies through the Hama-Aleppo highway would force the Syrian army to rely on air lifts, or smaller shipments from scattered pro-regime towns outside Aleppo,” said Al-Khitab.

Wadi Al-Azib, the captured checkpoint, lies 2km west of the Hama-Aleppo highway, and 13km southwest of the regime-held town of Ithriya. (Ithriya gained notoriety last August when Syrian army soldiers fleeing the lost battle for Tabqa airbase tried to escape to the safe haven of Ithriya. Dozens died, but at least 160 were captured and slaughtered by the Islamic State.)

The rebel operation to capture Wadi Al-Azib began with an IED attack against the Hama-Aleppo highway, reported Al-Manar on Saturday.

Pro-opposition media has alluded to the checkpoint capture in the context of what appears to be an upcoming, definitive battle for Syria’s largest city.

Late last month, rebels announced the formation of Fatah Halab, a coalition of

rebels consisting of some 22,000 fighters and modeled after the Fatah Idlib rebel alliance that took Idlib earlier this year.

“We ask God Almighty for a quick victory and conquest in Aleppo,” announced the Fatah Halab operations room in its formation statement.

In comparison, Fatah Idlib brought approximately 10,000 fighters to the fray, yet their ferocity, operational competence and arsenal of heavy Russian- and advanced American-made weapons won the provincial capital from the regime.

Ahrar a-Sham, a powerful Islamist faction that contributed over 1,500 fighters to the Fatah Idlib operation–more than Jabhat al-Nusra–is reportedly the only Fatah Idlib brigade to bring its guns, men and prowess to Fatah Halab. 

This exclusion of Fatah Idlib factions, mostly considered hardline Islamist, may not be unintentional. Fatah Halab will reportedly include all major factions fighting in Aleppo, with the exception of al-Nusra, reportedly in a bid to win decisive external aid in the form of cash, training and advanced anti-tank weapons.

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Joseph Adams

Joseph was a 2013-2014 Boren Fellow in Arabic based in Amman, Jordan and is the founder of Open Syria. He holds BA and MS degrees in political science from UCLA and MIT, and is an MA degree candidate in Arabic at Middlebury College.