Rebels keep Assad army out of key city
Rebel leaders in Syria say they have repelled a promised regime attack on Aleppo and launched a counter-offensive after learning from their mistakes in the heavy defeat at the town of Qusayr.
Syrian state media had announced that 'Operation Northern Storm' would retake Aleppo "within days" after regime forces captured Qusayr at the beginning of June. Opposition figures said thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, along with Iranian advisers, were moved to the country's second city to begin an advance.
However, after tanks north of the city were apparently repelled by rebel forces, there has been no sign of a major offensive. Armed with new anti-tank missiles and, according to one rebel, higher-end weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the opposition has launched counter-attacks in the north-east and west of the city.
"We advanced on the agricultural research centre," said Mohammed Abdullah (35), a fighter on one front in Bustan al-Basha, eastern Aleppo. The attack stalled when fighters were surrounded in a church and forced to retreat.
The operation is being called 'The Battle of Qadisiyah', after a 7th-century battle in which the Arabs defeated the Persian empire, in reference to the Iranian advisers helping the Assad regime.
"We are starting to attack," said Colonel Abduljabar al-Oqaidi, a former regime colonel who leads the Aleppo military council. "The regime pushed forward in the north of the city, but the Free Syrian Army caused a lot of casualties and they went back to their bases."
The defeat at Qusayr was the heaviest for the rebels since they were forced to withdraw from Baba al-Amr, the besieged district of Homs, in February last year. It prompted US President Barack Obama to promise military assistance to the opposition.
Colonel Oqaidi said the battle for Aleppo, if it came, would be nothing like that for Qusayr.
Aleppo is a major conurbation, with entrenched rebel forces. It lies in the rebels' Sunni heartlands, while Turkey, the rebels' ally and one of the main conduits for their arms, is just 25 miles away.
He said the most important lesson of Qusayr was now being put into practice – that it was pointless to wait for the enemy to come to you. "Attack is the best form of defence," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)