As the Assad regime forces captured the Dahiyet al-Assad district of western Aleppo on Saturday, reversing all the gains made by rebels two weeks into their counter-attack against government-held areas, the questions are raising: Has Battle for Breaking Aleppo Siege ended?
Rebels opened a corridor to the east for the month of August after pro-government forces first applied a blockade in July, but they were not able to hold it as the government and its Russian ally pounded the gap with artillery and airstrikes. Pro-government forces reapplied the siege in early September.
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.
Since 19 September, more than 800 civilians were killed and more than 2000 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.
There are about 275,000 people trapped by the siege of eastern Aleppo, where civilians are suffering through daily bombing, including by bunker-buster and incendiary weapons, and through starvation, as limited supplies run out and aid convoys are blocked from the city.
On Friday 29 October the rebel forces started a new military operation to break the siege, employing heavy shelling and suicide car bombs, was mainly focused on the city’s western edge by rebels based in the countryside outside Aleppo.
The operation continued on Saturday 30 October. The rebels were able to capture much of the western neighborhood of Assad where a majority of Saturday’s fighting was concentrated, according to the Syrian army and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian rebels, on Sunday 31 October, kept up their shelling of regime-controlled areas of the city, killing at least seven people, including three children, state TV reported, and used car bombs and tanks to push into new territory in western areas. The Syrian regime claimed the opposition fighters used toxic gas.
The offensive started to slow down
However, the rebels’ attack was repelled in many fronts by Assad regime’s forces and the battles have slowed down after the fourth day, as Assad regime deployed hundreds of fighters to the area and intensified its airstrikes.
Russia’s defense ministry announced then on Wednesday 2 November a new humanitarian pause and said that six exit routes will be open on Friday for ten hours, from 9am to 7pm, to allow civilians in eastern Aleppo to leave, along with two new exit routes for the fighters to withdraw from the area.
“All attempts by the rebels to break through in Aleppo have failed,” the ministry said. “The terrorists have suffered heavy losses in lives, weapons and equipment. They have no chance to break out of the city.”
The rebels have rejected Russian demands that they withdraw from the northern city of Aleppo by Friday evening, according to officials in rebel factions, and said they will go on with their military operation.
After the end of the pause, reports by opposition sources said that the airstrikes have already started in the areas surrounding Aleppo.
Regime forces and allied militias also started to counter-attack the rebels and put more pressure on the areas they restored.
The arrival of a Russian aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, into the Mediterranean and its heading to the Syrian coast suggested Moscow may intend to escalate its operations and deal one last blow to the rebels.
Has the battle ended?
The regime’s forces’ persistent and the intensive airstrikes forced the rebels to leave the areas they took.
Assad regime said on Saturday that its forces captured the Dahiyet al-Assad district of western Aleppo , reversing all the gains made by rebels two weeks into their counter-attack against government-held areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army and its allies made several advances on the divided city’s western edge this week, hampering the rebel offensive to break the siege of opposition-held districts.
After heavy air strikes pounded the area, Syrian government forces took Minoan village and nearby positions, which were captured by rebels last month, the Observatory said.
Quoting a Syrian military source, state news agency SANA said the army and its allies were steadily advancing on the western outskirts.
This week the army also captured the 1070 Apartments district and nearby hills in southwest Aleppo, a focal point of fighting for months and important because of its position alongside a corridor used by the government into the western zone.
Zakaria Malahifji, head of the political office of the Fastaqim rebel group fighting in Aleppo, confirmed the army’s gains.
“Of course, when the regime takes control, it has a negative effect, but there is persistence” among the rebel factions, he said. “And hopefully there will be a change in the coming days.”
However, monitors and some civilians had another opinion.
“The epic battle for Aleppo has failed,” Rami Abdurrahman, of the SOHR said.
The fighting left 508 people dead, including civilians and fighters from both sides, according to the SOHR.
“We had hope again, and it was for nothing,” said Abo Ahmad, a civilian from the eastern parts of Aleppo. “The rebels said they will break the siege and we believed this. We are being killed every day, we don’t have enough food left and my children are starving. We thought this operation will end all the suffer and bring us the aids we terribly need, but it didn’t.”
“The rebels did everything they could, but the regime had the upper hand again. The airstrikes neutralized the ground troops and destroyed nearly everything forcing the rebels to retreat. They say the operations will continue, but I know the truth and say it with sorrow, the battle has ended,” said Jamil, a civilian from Aleppo.
“The so-called rebel brought damage and destruction in Aleppo again. Their offensive led to destroying two of the new neighborhoods in Aleppo and put us all in grave danger. I think they should surrender and leave,” a civilian who lives in west Aleppo said.
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.
The area has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.
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.