AMMAN: East Aleppo rebel fighters staved off a sixth consecutive day of regime advances on Thursday with stormy, cloudy weather providing a temporary respite from airstrikes on the provincial capital, local sources told Syria Direct.
The poor weather has served as “a God-given no-fly zone,” Ibrahim al-Haj, spokesman for the Aleppo city Civil Defense, told Syria Direct on Thursday. With heavy rain blanketing Syria’s second city, the east Aleppo first responder says he has not seen a single airstrike all day.
The regime’s offensive campaign that began to retake all of Aleppo city heavily relies on thousands of airstrikes and barrel bombs to pave the way for ground advances across multiple axes. Thursday’s inclement weather provides opposition forces with their first major reprieve since a two-week long escalation of Russian and regime airstrikes led to rebel forces ceding more than one third of their territory in east Aleppo.
While the warplanes remained largely grounded on Thursday, al-Haj told Syria Direct that the rocket fire and artillery shelling were “constantly ongoing” throughout the day.
Regime artillery shelling reportedly also killed four children—between the ages of four and twelve years old—on Thursday, pro-opposition media reported.
At the time of publication, rebel forces remained locked in heavy combat with loyalist forces after reportedly rolling back the regime’s advance into the district of Sheikh Saeed, located on the southern end of east Aleppo.
“Yes, the regime managed to advance on Sheikh Saeed yesterday, but we’ve regained all lost territory and have killed more than 50 of their fighters,” Mohammed Adeeb, a spokesman for the Nour e-Din a-Zinki faction currently fighting in east Aleppo, told Syria Direct on Thursday. “The battle for Aleppo is certainly fierce, but I can say one thing for sure: The regime is not going to be advancing easily.”
Wednesday bombing kills more than 40 civilians fleeing to west Aleppo city. Photo courtesy of Aleppo Media Center.
On Wednesday Syrian state news agency SANA reported Sheikh Saeed’s fall to regime forces, citing what it called “a state of collapse and panic prevailing among the rest of the terrorist groups in a number of eastern neighborhoods.” The media outlet did not report on the district on Thursday.
Regime forces are looking to capitalize on their week of victories with a heavy assault of mortars, tank shells and sniper fire on the a-Sakan a-Shababi district located just west of the Aleppo International Airport, though little ground changed hands on Thursday.
Zinki spokesman Adeeb told Syria Direct that the rebel defense can be credited to the formation on Wednesday of the Aleppo Army, the reported unification of all east Aleppo rebel groups under a single leadership command.
Under the unified leadership, Adeeb told Syria Direct, the opposition looks not just to stave off the regime offensive, but to “break the siege and break their bones in the process.”
In a visit to Turkey on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavorv said at a press conference with his Turkish counterpart that Moscow intended to “continue its operations in Aleppo,” adding that “we will work to rescue Aleppo from terrorist organizations.”
Residents evacuate bombed-out east Aleppo city. Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Center.
In New York, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, the transcript of which was released later that day. In the session, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien is quoted as saying that the city is on the verge of becoming “one giant graveyard.”
The UN estimates that 25,000 people have fled their homes in east Aleppo since Saturday. Addressing the Security Council on Wednesday, O’Brien said “the rules of war [have] been systematically disregarded.”
He added, “Nowhere has the cruelty been more grimly witnessed than in Aleppo, which [has] become the apex of a catalogue of horrors in Syria.”
On Wednesday, mortar fire reportedly struck and killed dozens of civilians in east Aleppo as they were on the road, fleeing to the city’s regime-held west, Syria Direct reported. In one video from the scene of the attack, a father and son stand over the shredded bodies of their loved ones.
“I took off [your mother’s] earrings,” the father tells his son.
“Get your sister’s.”