Saturday 22 October 2016

Assad bombards rebels after Aleppo defeat

Josie Ensor

Published 09/08/2016 | 02:30

An Isil fighter in the city of Mosul yesterday Photo: Reuters
An Isil fighter in the city of Mosul yesterday Photo: Reuters

The Syrian regime has sent thousands of reinforcements to join the battle for Aleppo after suffering one of its most significant setbacks in the five-year-long civil war.

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Rebel forces made a major breakthrough over the weekend in relieving the siege on the eastern side of the city, where as many as 300,000 residents were at risk of starvation.

The 10,000-strong alliance of opposition fighters, led by the formerly al-Qa'ida-aligned Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, took the beleaguered Syrian army by surprise on Saturday. They managed to sever the primary government supply corridor running into the city from the south and capture a military academy in the strategic district of Ramuseh.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham posted pictures online of rows of armoured vehicles, munitions, howitzer tanks, rockets and trucks now in rebel hands.

Since their defeat, Syrian and Russian warplanes have been pounding the area mercilessly.

"We are in our trenches but there are insane air strikes of unprecedented ferociousness," a commander in the rebel coalition said.

Some 2,000 pro-government fighters from Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah arrived in the southern suburbs yesterday to try to retake Ramuseh.

President Bashar al-Assad cannot risk a defeat in Aleppo.

A loss would see him relinquish control of the entire north of the country, while a victory would strengthen his bargaining position at any future peace talks in Geneva.

The rebels' hold of the area is tentative and the road out remains too dangerous for civilians to use. If consolidated, however, the rebel gains could change the conflict.

Emboldened by the victory, the rebels have set their sights on recapturing all of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are getting ready for a major showdown with Isil in Mosul.

The Iraqi army and its elite units are gradually taking up positions around the city. The offensive is set for late September.

Sources in Mosul said signs of dissent against Isil were increasing ahead of the expected assault. They all spoke on condition of not being identified for fear of retribution.

Walls have been daubed with the Arabic letter M for 'muqawama', or resistance, or two parallel stripes, one red and one black, representing the Iraqi flag, said a resident, who explained: "These are acts of real bravery. If you are caught, you're dead."

The Iraqi national flag was raised twice in public squares, once in June and again in July, infuriating Isil, who tore them down the next morning, residents claimed.

With a population at one time as large as two million, Mosul is the largest urban centre under Isil's control.

Its fall would mark Isil's effective defeat in Iraq, according to Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.

Irish Independent

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