AMMAN: Regime forces are battling to reopen their only supply route into Aleppo city and the surrounding countryside, the Ithriya-Khnaser road, after the Islamic State cut if off entirely on Tuesday, local journalists and a rebel commander tell Syria Direct.
The supply road originates in Hama city, runs approximately 100km northeast to Ithriya in the south Aleppo countryside, and continues 110km northwest through Khnaser and into Aleppo city.
As of Tuesday, Islamic State forces control a 35km section of the road between Ithriya and Khnaser, Mujahid Hreitan, a citizen journalist in the southern Aleppo countryside, told Syria Direct Wednesday.
After capturing regime checkpoints along the Khnaser-Ithriya supply route Monday, the Islamic State took full control of Khnaser town on Tuesday, cementing their control over the stretch of road, reported IS’s semi-official news agency Amaq.
Part of the Ithriya-Khnaser road IS captured this week. Photo courtesy of Amaq.
IS’s latest campaign is different from previous attempts to cut off the same regime supply route. The Islamic State has now managed to capture the town of Khnaser in its entirety, whereas in the past “IS would take a couple of small areas [along the road] that the regime quickly recaptured,” Ahmed A-Ruwaished, a citizen journalist in the southern Aleppo countryside, told Syria Direct Wednesday.
Jawad al-Halabi, a citizen journalist from Aleppo city, offered a similar assessment: The Islamic State’s control over hills overlooking the Ithriya-Khnaser road, as well as the town of Khnaser itself “will help it hold on to the area, as opposed to in the past when it only captured exposed points along the road.”
Regime forces are battling to retake positions along the supply route, conducting air raids and missile strikes on Islamic State fighters in and around Khnaser, reported pro-opposition Itihad Press on Wednesday.
The Islamic State’s surprise attack comes as rebels are quickly losing ground to the Syrian Arab Army and its allies in the northern Aleppo countryside. Should IS hold on to the supply route, it could benefit the beleaguered northern Aleppo rebels, Abu Salih, a commander with a brigade in the Northern Front told Syria Direct Wednesday.
“Any battle against the regime on these axes [along the road] is a gain for the rebels, who might get the opportunity to regain some of those points they lost in the northern Aleppo countryside,” said Abu Salih.