November 3, 2014
Regime forces launched a surprise attack in early October against rebel positions just north of Aleppo city, capturing the town of Handarat and cutting off the main rebel supply route that runs from the northern Aleppo countryside through Handarat and into the city itself.
Since that time, the Islamic Front, Jabhat a-Nusra, Feilaq a-Sham and other FSA outfits have been deadlocked with regime forces in a battle for Aleppo’s northern entrance, the last rebel-held gateway into the city.
A regime victory in the area would mean the encirclement of Aleppo “and a repeat of the Homs scenario,” i.e. siege and starvation, Hussein al-Khitab, an opposition activist photographer in the northern Aleppo countryside, tells Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, residents in rebel-held areas of Aleppo city have taken to the streets “demanding that the entire FSA should be sent to the front,” says al-Khitab, and “there are young men demanding to be armed.”
“This battle is important–it will decide the fate of Aleppo.”
Q: Why is the regime trying to take the area? Why is it important?
The regime could encircle Aleppo and repeat the Homs scenario [by besieging the city].
Rebels with Ahrar a-Sham on the Handarat front. Photo courtesy of @Khatabsham.
Q: How are civilians reacting to the battle, in light of the fear that the regime will take control of the area and then repeat the Homs and Eastern Ghouta scenarios [i.e., siege and starvation]?
There are protests in neighborhoods of Aleppo demanding that the entire FSA be sent to the front. There are young men demanding to be armed.
Q: What are the most recent developments [in the battle for Aleppo’s northern entrance]?
Battles are ongoing on the outskirts of the town of Handarat. The regime is erecting earth mounds and fortifying the town.
Q: Why did the battle break out at this particular time [early October]?
The regime tried to take advantage of the fact that the world was busy with Kobani, and that the rebels in Aleppo were fighting the Islamic State in the eastern countryside.
They tried to take advantage of the situation and capture the northern gate.
Q: What do you know about the presence of Iranian militias and Afghan fighters [among the regime forces]?
There are Iranian soldiers and Afghans participating in the campaign against Aleppo. A number were captured during the battles, and video clips of them have been broadcast. [In an October 10 video, rebels allegedly identify Iranian soldiers’ remains from dog tags and tattoos.]
Q: In general terms, how is the battle going around Aleppo?
In the beginning, the battles were in the regime’s favor. But as [rebels] came to realize how serious it would be if the regime took the northern entrance to the city, the initiative shifted to the rebels’ side.
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