Aleppo siege: Syrian government forces break through rebel frontline

Syrian army tanks cross the frontline dividing east and west Aleppo for the first time since 2012, monitor says

Wednesday 05 October 2016 18:25 BST
Syria: Government advance in Aleppo continues as tanks cross front line

Pro-government forces in the war-torn city of Aleppo are “gradually advancing” on the city’s rebel-held neighbourhoods as army tanks entered rebel areas in the renewed Russian-backed offensive, monitors say.

Aleppo, the scene of some of the Syrian civil war’s fiercest fighting, is currently divided into government held west side of the city and besieged rebels in east Aleppo. As well as intensive air strikes on opposition-held neighbourhoods, street battles in the last week have led to the recapture of the central neighbourhood of Farafra, and Handarat Palestinian camp and Kindi Hospital near key roads in the north of the city, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Rebel forces said that they had successfully repelled attacks by the Syrian army and allied militias on access points in the south of Aleppo, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

The escalating ground assault, announced following the failure of an internationally brokered ceasefire, is proving to be an inch-by-inch battle.

While the government’s tanks and heavy artillery will have trouble navigating Aleppo’s streets against experienced rebels, the odds are in the regime’s favour, Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria between 2011 - 2014 and fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC said.

“Unless the balance on the ground drastically shifts, the Assad regime will eventually retake from opposition fighters all of Aleppo,” he said.

Syrian government continues air strikes on Aleppo

Captain Abdel-Salam Abdel-Razek of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki rebel group told the Associated Press he expected a slow offensive across several fronts. “I don't see that [the regime] has the capacity to carry out a wide offensive on all fronts,“ Abdel-Razek said. ”As a force on the ground, it is mobilising and it can possibly later, but not now.”

In a show of continued support for President Bashar al-Assad and a clear signal to Western powers who may be considering intervening militarily, Russia sent an advanced S-300 ground-to-air missile system to its naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus on Tuesday, the first time Moscow has ever deployed the system outside Russia.

The people of east Aleppo are suffering greatly under the Russian-backed offensive to retake the city from rebels. Around 250,000 civilians are thought to be trapped inside the siege barricades, and civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and water supplies have been hit in bombing residents say has been unprecedented.

A Syrian civil defence rescue service volunteer told The Independent he estimated 500 people have died and 2,000 more seriously injured since the new campaign began on September 22nd.

There are only around 30 doctors left to care for east Aleppo’s civilians, and basic medical supplies and drugs are running low because of the siege conditions.

The international community has condemned both the Russian and Syrian governments for the strikes, which have been described as war crimes for indiscriminately hitting built-up civilian areas. Damascus and Moscow both deny that strikes target civilians, and argue that the use of human shields is a well-documented terrorist tactic.

The US formally broke off bilateral talks with Russia on Syria on Monday, putting the prospect of future peace talks and co-ordinated military efforts against terror group Isis on hold.

While recapturing the whole city would be a significant victory for President Bashar al-Assad in the six-year-long war, wiping out US-backed rebels from almost all of Syria’s urbanised areas, analysts say the fall of Aleppo will not mean the war is coming to an end.

Even if the rebels lose their territory, a long-term Sunni guerrilla insurgency is on the cards, Robert Ford said.

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