Assad regime forces and rebel forces clashed for control of high ground on the Aleppo outskirts on Saturday as warplanes intensified bombardment on the city’s opposition-held east part.
Assad regime said on Thursday it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was decalred officially over on Monday. the offensive includes a ground assault, artillery bombardment, and intensive airstrikes.
Since last Monday, at least 180 people have been killed in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.
In their first major ground advance of the offensive, the Assad regime’s army and its militia allies seized control of the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp, a few kilometers north of Aleppo, only for rebels to counter attack as night fell.
The captured area – elevated ground overlooking one of the main roads into Aleppo – had been in rebel hands for years.
“Handarat has fallen,” an official with one of the main Aleppo rebel groups told Reuters. An army statement confirming the advance said “large numbers of terrorists” had been killed.
“The fighters are waging ferocious battles because it is a battle of existence,” a senior rebel official told Reuters.
Rebels said they had recovered some or all of Handarat, a claim denied by a pro-Damascus militia commander. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the battle was ongoing.
In a statement on its official website, the Syrian defence ministry called on Aleppo residents to move to regime-held areas, adding that there would be “no detention, or inquiry to any citizen” who reached the checkpoints that divide the city.
An army source said on Friday that the offensive would be “comprehensive”, with a ground assault following air and artillery bombardment. “With respect to the air or artillery strikes, they may continue for some time,” he said.
“We have begun reconnaissance, aerial and artillery bombardment,” he told the AFP news agency.
“This could go on for hours or days before the ground operation starts. The timing of the ground operation will depend on the results of the strikes and the situation on the ground.”
More destruction than ever
The attack has drawn on ordinance more destructive than anything previously used against the area, and many buildings have been entirely destroyed, residents say.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 45 people, among them 10 children, were killed in eastern Aleppo on Saturday, while activists put the two-day death toll at more than 200.
“They are using weapons that appear to be specifically for [bringing down] buildings,” said a senior official in an Aleppo-based rebel faction, the Levant Front. “Most of the victims are under the rubble because more than half the civil defence has been forced out of service.”
“We don’t have the equipment to pull the corpses out,” a resident said, standing on the rubble of a destroyed building in the city’s al-Bab district.
Describing the horror around him, he said an entire family was killed in a strike, with several people still lying under the debris.
“We are trying to help the injured, those who survived … but the situation is catastrophic. Destruction and death, everywhere around us. It seems that the Russians and the regime have been given a green light to slaughter us all. As if starving the people here was not enough – it’s now mass murder.”
The Assad regime forces, strengthened by Russian air power and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.
Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.
— raging.me (@raging545) September 24, 2016
— taim shami (@taimshamii) September 24, 2016
— Sakir Khader (@sakirkhader) September 23, 2016
— Middle East Observer (@MEOorg) September 23, 2016