The Syrian government has sent text messages to residents and rebels in eastern Aleppo ordering them to leave the area within 24 hours, as Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov arrived near Syria’s shores and began carrying out flights, hinting to its preparations for taking part in Aleppo battle.
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.
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.
Government forces said that they were preparing a major offensive to push opposition fighters out of the besieged eastern half of the city.
“To the armed people in the neighborhoods of east Aleppo, we are giving you 24 hours only to decide if you are leaving. Your leadership abroad is incapable of getting you out. Whoever wants to stay alive must drop his weapons and we will secure his safety. After the 24 hours is up we will implement a strategic attack using highly sophisticated weapons,” the messages read.
“The opposition leadership that stays in hotels and castles enjoying a luxurious life doesn’t care about the poor Syrian citizens in east Aleppo. They are using you for their personal benefit. We are giving you, the sick and the wounded, 24 hours to exit if you want.”
Messages from the regime have been sent to eastern Aleppo residents before, but usually in leaflets dropped from the sky, or on loudspeakers.
“This is part of the psychological warfare being waged on the besieged city,” an analyst. “Rebels say it is one of the tactics the government uses to draw them out and make them use their weapons.”
However, Assad regime is advancing on the ground and using real warfare, not just a psychological one.
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.
Read more: As regime forces advance, Has Aleppo battle ended?
Russian threat escalates as aircraft carrier arrived
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.
Aircraft stationed on the decks of Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov have begun carrying out flights aimed at working out interaction with a coastal airfield, according to Russia today.
“The flights are performed from the deck of the aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser. Interaction with a coastal airfield is being worked out,” Sergey Artamonov, Admiral Kuznetsov’s captain said.
According to the him, the flights have been carried out on a daily basis over the last four days.
The Russian Northern fleet battle group, consisting of Admiral Kuznetsov, the Pyotr Velikiy battle cruiser, two large anti-submarine ships Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov as well as support vessels, arrived in the Mediterranean in early November.
Earlier this week, Russian Defense Ministry said that the planes and vessels from the battle group are ready to attack the rebels’ targets on the outskirts of Syria’s Aleppo, help in retrieving it from their hands and preventing more rebels to advance to the city.
The Russian Interfax news agency had quoted a Russian military and diplomatic source on Friday as saying that MiG and Sukhoi jets have been regularly flying above Syria from the Admiral Kuznetsov to “determine combat missions.”
Interfax said that preparations are underway for the carrier and escorting ships to launch strikes against militants. The fighter jets do not have sufficient range or payload for long sorties.
The carrier group’s mission near Syria’s shores marks the largest Russian naval deployment since the Soviet collapse. It allows the military to test its carrier-borne fighters in combat for the first time.
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.