Russian and Assad regime forces bombed a strategic camp on the northern edge of Aleppo on Sunday after losing control of it overnight, both rebels and the Syrian army said.
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 declared officially over on Monday. the offensive includes a ground assault, artillery bombardment, and intensive airstrikes.
Since last Monday, at least 213 civilians 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 Sunday.
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 on Saturday, a few kilometers north of Aleppo, only for rebels to counter attack as night fell.
However, the Syrian rebel forces were able to retrieve the camp overnight with a sudden attack.
Syria rebels said the army used more powerful weapons in an attempt to recover Handarat, a Palestinian refugee camp a few kilometers north of the Aleppo which is on elevated ground overlooking one of the main roads into Aleppo that had been in rebel hands for years.
“We retook the camp, but the regime burnt it with phosphorous bombs … We were able to protect it, but the bombing burnt our vehicles,” said Abu al-Hassanien, a commander in a rebel operations room that includes the main brigades fighting to repel the army assault.
The Observatory says rebels seized Handarat, a largely uninhabited former Palestinian refugee camp, early Sunday a day after it was lost to government forces. The camp has changed hands multiple times and is largely devastated and abandoned.
The area is near Castello Road, a vital supply route to the city’s besieged rebel-held areas. Government forces seized the Castello Road earlier this year, besieging rebel-held districts where some 250,000 people reside.
Intensive airstrikes haven’t stopped
The army which is being helped by Iranian-backed militias, Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah militant group and Liwaa Al-Quds which is a Palestinian militia, acknowledged rebels had retaken Handarat, whose capture on Saturday briefly marked the first major ground advance by the army in a new offensive to recapture rebel held Aleppo.
“At night, terrorists attacked simultaneously from three sides after preliminary heavy mortar fire. We had to retreat from most areas of the camp,” a representative in Liwaa Al-Quds said.
“The Syrian army is targeting the armed groups positions in Handarat camp,” a military source was quoted on state media as saying.
The Russian air force is taking part in the ongoing offensive, as the residents say that it is more violent than ever.
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.
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.”
The Assad regime forces 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.
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