AMMAN: Syrian rebels were locked in a bloody stalemate with regime forces west of Aleppo city on Sunday evening, three days into an opposition offensive to break the siege of the city’s eastern districts, military sources on the frontlines told Syria Direct.
Around 5pm local time Sunday, pro-regime media claimed that government forces regained control of territory ceded to the opposition over the weekend. The Syrian Arab Army “has recaptured all of the Minyan district southwest of Aleppo city,” reported a pro-regime Lebanese news outlet.
A Syria Direct source in the rebel Suqour a-Sham brigade, active on the Minyan frontline, acknowledged that the regime advanced into “one part of the district,” but described the fighting in Minyan as “back and forth.”
“The rebels are working to solidify their grasp on the entire district,” said the source, who requested anonymity.
Map design by Tariq Adely. Sources: Syria Direct reporting.
The approximately 20-faction rebel coalition marched on Aleppo city from the province’s western countryside on Sunday, taking advantage of cloudy weather believed to reduce the effectiveness of government airstrikes. The offensive, rebels say, aims to lift the siege of east Aleppo’s 250,000 residents and, ultimately, “liberate” the entire city.
During the first two days of this most recent Aleppo campaign, rebel forces quickly captured two formerly regime-held districts: Minyan and Assad.
SANA, Syria’s state news agency, made no mention of rebel advances over the weekend but did claim that “terrorist organizations shelled residential areas in the Assad and Hamdaniyah districts Sunday morning with poisonous gas, resulting in 35 injuries from suffocation.” Pro-opposition media denied the reports of a rebel gas attack, claiming that government helicopters had dropped chlorine-filled barrels on two other towns in the west Aleppo countryside.
Sunday’s fighting concentrated on two primary fronts on the outskirts of west Aleppo city. At the southwestern entrance to the city, the rebel coalition attempted to capitalize on the weekend’s gains, backed by multiple suicide car bombs and near-constant artillery fire. Rebel forces, however, met heavy resistance at the Assad Military Academy and 3000 Apartment Complex.
Simultaneously, the rebels—including the Jabhat Fatah a-Sham-led Victory Army—continued their pressure on the northern front, challenging the regime across the a-Zahraa district.
As opposed to marching the shortest distance to break the siege, rebel forces are attempting to launch a wider, crescent-shaped front in their advance.
“We’re implementing a new strategy, which has already shown measurable success in taking on the regime and Hezbollah,” Captain Abdul Salam Abdul Razaq, spokesman for rebel faction Nour e-Din a-Zinki, told Syria Direct over the weekend. “This time around we’re shifting the battles away from the closest point of entry to east Aleppo.”
Mohammad al-Jolani discusses Aleppo military strategy. Photo courtesy of Jabhat Fatah a-Sham.
At its shortest distance, just two kilometers separate the Aleppo countryside rebel coalition from breaking the siege of the city’s east; however, the rebels recognize the issues that come with marching this length.
In August, the Syrian rebels broke the regime’s encirclement of east Aleppo’s 250,000 residents after narrowly linking the besieged city to the rebel-held western countryside through the Ramouseh district, Syria Direct reported.
During this brief respite from the siege, little food or medicine entered the city and few people exited. Rebels quickly lost control of the territory in early September, flanked by the regime’s high-ground to the south and heavy reinforcements to the north.
Since the regime regained control over Ramouseh, Syrian and Russian airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians, destroying hospitals, schools and apartment buildings. Concurrently, no aid has entered the city, with at least two children dying from the critical shortages of baby formula and other supplies.
Rebel forces are optimistic that their new strategy will bring greater success.
“Things are going far better than our last campaign,” Fustaqem Kama Amarat spokesman, Mohammad Haj Qasem, told Syria Direct over the weekend. “We’ve learned from our previous mistakes.”
Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated, “Russian and Syrian planes have not flown over Aleppo for the past 13 days,” with the Ministry’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, adding “these bombings on residential buildings and humanitarian corridors in Aleppo are coming from terrorists.”
Last week, regime and rebel forces were locked in battles on multiple fronts across divided Aleppo city after both sides reportedly used an earlier “humanitarian pause” to draw reinforcements and prepare for major military operations, Syria Direct reported.
“People are positive that this is Aleppo’s day of reckoning,” east Aleppo citizen journalist Abu al-Layth told Syria Direct on Sunday.
“This fighting won’t stop until all of Aleppo is liberated.”