Aleppo: Assad regime advances with tanks, rebels hold some fronts

Aleppo: Assad regime advances with tanks, rebels hold some fronts
A medic holds a dead child after airstrikes in the rebel held Karam Houmid neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Assad regime’s tanks crossed the frontline in the battleground city of Aleppo for the first time in four years and rebels say they repelled part of the attack, as a Russian-backed offensive to retake the rebel-held east escalated on the ground

Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 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 19 September. the offensive includes a ground assault, artillery bombardment, and intensive airstrikes.

Since 19 September, more than 500 civilians have been killed and more than 1700 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who announced on Monday that Washington was suspending talks with Moscow due to Russia’s role in the offensive, said peace efforts must carry on.

Pro-government forces were “gradually advancing” after street battles on Tuesday in the divided city’s rebel-controlled neighbourhoods, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Today there was very heavy bombing. More than 16 civilians were killed and more than 32 people were injured,” Ibrahim Abu Leith, spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defence in Aleppo, told Al Jazeera.

In the heart of the city, warplanes flying at high altitude hit Bustan al Qasr, Hay al Huluk and Fardous neighborhoods with reports of casualties, several rebel contacts said. Rebels believe those planes are Russian.

“The regime is trying to enter the east from several different points. So far, they’ve only been able to take territory in the northeast, taking the Handarat camp and the Shuqayif area.”

Last week, government forces captured the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp north of Aleppo and the nearby Kindi Hospital, which overlooks a key intersection of vital roads. Government troops also took the central neighborhood of Farafra after pushing forward from the Old City.

“Tanks will not be able to advance easily in the streets,” Aleppo-based activist Baraa al-Halabi told The Associated Press news agency, adding the Handarat camp was only taken because it is in an open area.

Rebels repelled offensive in some fronts, retreated from others

A rebel commander from the Nour al-Din al-Zinki group said the army had opened several fronts simultaneously since the launch of a ground assault in order to stretch rebel forces, and had dropped leaflets from helicopters calling for surrender.

Government forces have pressed southwards since securing Handarat, a camp for Palestinians on the northern edge of Aleppo last Thursday following what rebels called carpet bombing. “They leveled the ground and our people had no choice but to retreat under the bombing of the Russians,” the Zinki commander said.

Rebels still expect the army thrust will slow in residential areas that offer them more cover from air raids.

Rebels said they inflicted losses on pro-government fighters after hours of clashes on the fringe of Sheikh Saeed district on the southern edge of the city’s rebel-held sector.

“We repelled their attempt to advance in Sheikh Saeed and killed 10 regime fighters and destroyed several vehicles,” said a fighter from the Failaq al-Sham rebel group, who gave his name as Abdullah al-Halabi.

But Pro-government media said the Syrian army was pressing ahead in a major campaign supported by Iranian-backed militias and Russian air power to take full control of Syria’s largest city, divided between rebel and government zones since 2012.

The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, 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.