Syrian rebels have announced the start of a battle to recapture the whole of Aleppo, after they broke Assad regime’s siege on the rebel-held half of the city.
Jaysh al-Fatah, a coalition of rebel groups including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the al-Nusra Front), said in a statement on Sunday that it would “double the number of fighters for this next battle”.
“We announce the start of a new phase to liberate all of Aleppo,” the group said. “We will not rest until we raise the flag of the conquest over Aleppo’s citadel.”
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said it was one of the most significant defeats for the government since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
SOHR said also that some 2,000 pro-government fighters from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah had arrived in Aleppo since late Sunday.
“Both sides are amassing their fighters in preparation for the great battle of Aleppo,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Observatory.
Operation of breaking the siege
Rebels on Saturday pushed northeast into Ramosa where they linked up with fighters who had been inside the city.
“After a large-scale military operation carried out in six stages, the Conquest Army managed to put an end to the siege,” Al Jazeera’s Amro Halabi, reporting from the rebel-held half of the city, said.
“The first three stages included assaulting and seizing control of strategic positions from the regime’s forces on the southern and western fronts of the city. The fourth stage saw the Conquest Army’s fighters advancing in a ground operation into the city from the south, seizing the Ramosa neighborhood.”
Ramosa is home to a large military complex, which contains a number of military colleges.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham posted pictures on social media of rows of armoured vehicles, munitions, howitzer tanks, rockets and trucks now in rebel hands.
The rebel frontline was pushing northwest into western, government-held Aleppo, on the the edges of the Hamdaniya neighborhood and a housing project called the 3,000 project, according to rebels and the SOHR, which relies on a network of contacts in Syria to track the war.
The Assad Military Engineering Academy, another large government army complex, is located just north of Hamadiya.
“The battle for Aleppo is decisive. Whoever wins the battle could perhaps win the war. For the rebels, keeping hold of Aleppo is leverage – it’s a bargaining chip that they could use to perhaps force the Syrian government back to the negotiating table in Geneva,” Al Jazeera’s Reza Sayah, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said.
“At the same time, if the government is able to take over Aleppo, they take away that bargaining chip. If they have control of the city, there’s no longer incentive for them to go back to Geneva.”