The Assad regime and its allies has sent thousands of reinforcements to mount a counterattack in Aleppo after rebels broke through government lines two days earlier, a monitoring group said.
The Syrian rebels effectively broke that siege in an assault on a major Assad regime’s military complex on Aleppo’s southwestern outskirts on Saturday, opening a corridor linking the eastern sector with the rebel-held territory.
At the same time, they cut the main supply route to government-held Aleppo, raising the prospect of rebels, in turn, besieging those areas.
The Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement and the Assad regime have mobilized more than 3,000 troops and militia fighters for an attempt to recapture the areas where the rebels made their breakthrough, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
“Hundreds of opposition fighters have also arrived in Aleppo from the [neighboring] province of Idlib to help in the expected battles,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the group.
Hezbollah’s battle-hardened fighters have provided crucial support to Bashar al-Assad’s overstretched and exhausted army.
The semi-official Fars News Agency reported on Sunday that the troops from Hezbollah’s Radwan Forces, one of the party’s special operations unit, were dispatched to Aleppo Hamdaniyah quarter amid the intensified fighting in the city.
Fars News claimed that the Radwan Forces were sent to Hamdaniyah “in preparation for the retaking of the areas in southwest Aleppo from the hands of terrorist groups,” adding that a counteroffensive in the flashpoint front “will be carried out jointly by resistance forces.”
The report added that despite opposition advances, the Hamdaniyah quarter “enjoys full security,” further claiming that “there is no danger to the residents of the area.”
Syrian state news agency SANA said government planes carried out “intensive strikes” on what it called “terrorist movements” south of Aleppo.
Earlier in the day, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least nine people were killed in Assad regime’s airstrikes on eastern, rebel-controlled Aleppo.
A rebel fighter recalled the opposition fighters’ military offensive that broke the government-imposed siege on the city three days earlier.
“I was part of the the latest attack when we broke the siege,” he told Al Jazeera. “Warplanes, helicopters and every kind of weapon that exists were used by the regime to hit us.”
Although claiming rebels still control Telal al-Snobarat, Tello said: “The fighting is still very furious, but all of our men are doing their best to advance there and in other areas.”
The Assad regime also acted to quell fears that rebel advances would cut supply lines to government-held western Aleppo. SANA quoted provincial governor Mohammed Marwan al-Oulabi as saying that all essential goods and fuel were still available in the area.
“Dozens of fuel tanks entered Aleppo city on Monday,” he said.
Rebels are still holding positions
“Government forces backed by intense aerial bombardment recaptured some terrain and closed off the rebel corridor,” pro-regime media outlets including Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV reported.
However, Syrian rebel fighters have rejected the claims.
A rebel official denied there had been gains by Assad regime. “There’s no advance, nothing,” said Abu al-Hasanein, a senior commander in Fateh Halab, the coalition of moderate rebel groups inside the city.
“The situation is good. There’s a lot of bombing, but the brothers (fighters) are taking cover until they start a new phase” in the battle, he said.
Hassan al-Eshra, a fighter in the Jaysh al-Islam armed group, said they and other rebel groups were still in control of the flash point neighborhood of Ramouseh in Aleppo on Tuesday evening, despite Assad regime forces attempts to recapture it.
“We haven’t fallen back from any of the sites… we took from the regime three days ago,” Eshra said from the front line. “Yesterday the regime tried [to recapture Ramouseh] three times, but it is strategically incapable.”
Syrian rebel groups have said they are fighting to hang on to key areas in the embattled northern city of Aleppo as regime forces and their allies escalate their attacks.
Eshra also said that the rebels were still in control of the Telat al-Snobarat area on the southwestern edge of Aleppo.
“This area is still under our control,” he said, adding that rebels targeted an industrial area and gas field north of the city with several missiles.