Syria civil war: President Bashar al-Assad's forces plan assault on rebels in Aleppo

The city is still split between rebel-held and government-held areas

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The Independent Online

Syrian government forces are reportedly preparing an assault on the north-west city of Aleppo, emboldened by their victory in the strategic town of Qusayr.

The city is still split into rebel-held and government-held areas, with static frontlines for months.

A security source has said the push would start "in the coming hours or days," but activists said there were no signs yet of a renewed push on Aleppo.

An article in the pro-government newspaper, al-Watan, said the army was "deploying heavily in the countryside near Aleppo in preparation for a battle that will be fought inside the city and on its outskirts.

"Besieged areas will be freed in the first stages and troops which have been on the defensive will go on the offensive."

It added: "The Syrian army will take advantage of its experience in Qusayr and Eastern Ghouta [near Damascus] to advance in the provinces of Hama and Homs."

And a security source told the AFP agency: "It is likely the battle for Aleppo will start in the coming hours or days, and its aim is to reclaim the towns and villages in the province."

The planned offensive is reportedly called "Operation Northern Storm".

Fierce fighting was reported on yesterday in Nubbul and Zahra, two predominantly Shiite villages on the outskirts of the city.

A rebel commander and former senior military officer, Brig Gen Mustafa al-Sheikh, told the Reuters news agency: "The [army's] aim is to use the two villages as forward bases to make advances in Aleppo and its countryside.

"The regime considers that it has received a shot in the arm after the Qusayr battle, but they will find that it will not be easy to advance in Aleppo."

Qusayr, close to the Lebanese border, had been the scene of nearly three weeks of fighting, and of the first open involvement from Lebanon's Hezbollah militants in the war. Lying along a land corridor linking two of President Bashar al-Assad's stongholds, its capture last week solidified some of the regime's recent gains on the ground that have shifted the balance of power in Assad's favour.

Syria's civil war, now in its third year, has killed 90,000 according to the UN and displaced more than one million. It is fought between forces loyal to President Assad and rebels, mostly from the disparate Free Syrian Army.

Last night in Aleppo, a 15-year-old boy was reportedly shot by rebels in front of his family. Several reports suggest that he had used the name of the Prophet Mohammed flippantly.