February 17, 2015
By Osama Abu Zeid and Dan Wilkofsky
AMMAN: Regime forces reportedly backed by Iraqi and Iranian militias took control of three villages in the northern Aleppo countryside Tuesday in an attempt to cut off rebel supply lines running south into Aleppo city, reported the pro-opposition Aleppo Media Center.
Rebels have since scrambled to recapture the villages and prevent the encirclement, and subsequent starvation, of opposition-held areas in Aleppo.
For now, journalists on the ground say, the battle for the villages of Herdtein, Ratyan and Bashkuy, which sit along critical rebel supply lines, is not over.
Over the course of nearly half a dozen interviews conducted by Syria Direct on Tuesday, mixed reports emerged on the course of fighting.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no party is definitively in control of any of the three villages, Yasin Abu Raed, the alias of a citizen journalist in the northern Aleppo countryside, told Syria Direct.
The regime is withdrawing in Bashkuy and Ratyan, he said. Syrian army and militia forces have “suffered heavy personnel losses; dozens are dead,” adding that government warplanes are pounding the area with vacuum missiles.
Another citizen journalist on the ground, Hussein Khatab, said that rebels have retaken Bashkuy and Ratyan, with Herdtein still in regime hands.
The pro-opposition Halab News Network also reported that rebels had recaptured Bashkuy and Ratyan.
As for the details of the regime’s surprise attack, a group of soldiers snuck towards Herdtein from the direction of Nubul and Zahra, and a second contingent towards Bashkuy from Suwaifat, taking advantage of the morning fog, Safwan al-Halabi, alias of a member of the pro-opposition Aleppo Media Center, told Syria Direct Tuesday.
The rebels were unprepared for the attack, local journalists said.
The regime hopes that by gaining control of the villages, it will not only cut off rebel supply lines into Aleppo city, but also facilitate breaking the siege around the pro-regime Shiite villages of Nubul and Zahra, Adnan al-Hussein, a local journalist, told Syria Direct.
The three villages reportedly captured Monday have witnessed a large-scale displacement of locals amidst reports that Shiite militias allied with the regime slaughtered “a number of civilians,” according to pro-opposition Sham News Network.
In related news, the Syrian army and allied “Local Defense Committees” began battles Tuesday on several fronts west of Aleppo that aim, like the surprise attacks up north, to complete the encirclement of rebels inside the city, reported pro-regime Halab News Network.
The Handarat and Malah Farms fronts just north of Aleppo also witnessed heavy fighting between rebel and regime fighters, according to Jabhat a-Nusra-affiliated Murasil Halab and the Aleppo Media Center.
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