Syria: Fears for Aleppo as Hezbollah fighters bolster Assad’s forces

 

Syrian rebels fought back against forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo on Sunday after losing territory to government forces in recent days. Having been driven out of the key town of Qusayr two weeks ago, rebel fighters have been flocking to Aleppo to shore up one of the few remaining opposition strongholds.

Renewed fighting suggest that the city has become the latest target for regime loyalists emboldened by the Lebanese Hezbollah fighters that have swelled their ranks. Rebel leaders and their backers in the West and other Arab countries fear that the strident support of Hezbollah has tipped the two-year conflict in Assad’s favour; a development that has led the West – especially the UK, US and France – to openly contemplate arming the rebels for the first time.

Regime forces have not yet launched a fully-fledged assault on Aleppo, but reports in newspapers loyal to President Assad have suggested that the army sees the city as its next target. Capturing Aleppo would also allow the army to cut off major supply lines from Turkey to rebel strongholds in the north.

Activists in the region have told the Reuters news agency that opposition forces, including growing numbers of radicalised Islamists, have been mounting counter-attacks on Hezbollah-backed troops and militiamen recruited from Shia enclaves near Aleppo, a mostly Sunni city some 20 miles from the border with Turkey. The violence is also spilling over into Lebanon, where four Shia men were yesterday killed in an ambush in the Bekaa Valley, a region where families loyal to President Assad live side-by-side with those who support the opposition.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said last week she feared that the bloodshed in Qusayr would be repeated in Aleppo and undermine international efforts to push for an end to more than two years of civil war. The UN reported last week that some 93,000 people have now been killed in the conflict while more than a million have been displaced.

The feeling that the pro-Assad forces may be gaining the upper hand has led to a flurry of diplomatic activity in the West and the Arab world, focused on arming the rebels. Jordan’s King Abdullah told graduating military cadets in Amman yesterday that they must be ready to fend off any threats from Syria. More than half a million refugees have already crossed the Syrian border into Jordan.

For the West, Jordan is becoming an increasingly important fulcrum in the regional response to the Syrian conflict. It is hosting a large-scale military exercise involving thousands of US troops, and media reports yesterday suggested that British soldiers could also be sent to Jordan.

The US has also agreed to install Patriot missile batteries along Jordan’s 235-mile border with Syria and is allowing a squadron of up to 24 F-16 fighter jets to remain after the exercises. Hours earlier Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi announced that Cairo would cut all diplomatic ties with Syria and withdraw its diplomats in Damascus.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015