April 13, 2014
Rebel fighters announced last week the launch of the “I’tassam” campaign targeting regime military installations in southwestern Aleppo, and quickly claimed gains near the neighborhood of a-Ramusa, seeking to cut off regime supply routes between a-Ramusa and the Aleppo Military Academy.
Leading the charge in the new campaign are the Islamic Front, Jabhat a-Nusra and Jaysh al-Mujahideen, Aleppo’s three strongest rebel groupings, who in February united to form the Ahl a-Sham Joint Operations Room. The announcement came as part of a months-long process whereby Aleppo’s disparate rebel factions have sought to improve their operational cohesiveness in Syria’s largest and—through three years of civil war—deadliest city.
This consolidation has been aided by the expulsion of the Islamic State of Iraq and a Sham (ISIS), which until January retained a major presence in eastern Aleppo and often clashes with other armed groups, according to Abu Omar, a fighter in the Islamic Front’s Liwa a-Tawheed who declined to give his full name.
Still, the active front in Syria’s north extends more than 100 kilometers, he tells Mohammad al-Haj Ali, adding that there is unity “among the different brigades except for the clashes with [remaining elements of] ISIS.”
Q: What is the extent of coordination between the different brigades in Aleppo? Are they working with Jubhat a-Nusra?
There is no long anything called “brigades,” there are a lot of factions like the Islamic Front which includes Liwa a-Tawheed, Ahrar a-Sham, Suqur a-Sham, Jaish al-Islam and Jaish al-Mujahideen. Jubhat a-Nusra is obviously a large faction and is very active on the ground. Some of the small brigades are coordinating and have created the Ahl a-Sham Joint Operations Room, which includes the biggest factions. The Islamic Front controls the largest part of Aleppo.
Q: Are there any disagreements between the different brigades in Aleppo? Who is in control of the region?
There were a number of disagreements between ISIS and the Lasus Brigades, but thank God ISIS was removed from the region and most members of the bad brigades were either arrested by the Sharia Commission or fled. Since then the situation has improved dramatically and not only have disagreements dissipated, but there is basically unity among the different brigades except for the clashes with [remaining elements of] ISIS. The front, more than 100 km, is witnessing fierce clashes. On the outskirts of Aleppo, they are also in control of al-Bab, Manbij, Jarablus, Tadif and a number of other small villages.
Q: The regime claims that it is in control of 80% of Aleppo. Is this true? What do the rebels control?
Obviously the regime is lying. It is true that the regime made some advances recently since they use the “scorched earth” policy. But they have also had a lot of losses recently and the FSA has taken the reins and has made advances on a number of fronts such as in Aziza, the Palace of Justice, Sheikh Sa’eed, al-Lirmun and Shwayhana Mountain. The regime controls only 40 percent of Aleppo.
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