Saturday 24 March 2018

Time is running out for rebels in key battle for Aleppo

A member of the Free Syrian Army aims his weapon after hearing shooting in Aleppo yesterday.
A member of the Free Syrian Army aims his weapon after hearing shooting in Aleppo yesterday.

Damien McElroy in Aleppo province

FELLED by a sniper's bullet, one of many fired in the ever bloodier battle for Aleppo, Uday Dadan's corpse was lowered into the ground yesterday, saluted by his revolutionary comrades.

Before he became a warrior, celebrated among his peers for his courage, Dadan, aged just 22, was a law student at Aleppo University, one of the best in the country. But with his country in turmoil, Dadan, like many other young Syrian men, turned his back on education and picked up a gun.

Facing the might of the Assad army, his chances of survival were always slender.

Some who choose to fight in Syria's civil war are no doubt motivated by their adherence to radical Islam. More do so in horror at the brutality with which President Bashar al-Assad is prepared to defend a system that has subjected Syrians to grinding injustice for decades.

Uday Dadan belonged to the latter category. According to fellow fighters, he joined the Free Syrian Army's al-Mohammad Battalion less than three months ago because he was inspired by the uprising and repulsed by the repression meted out by Mr Assad's security forces to crush it.

Like so many embroiled in this revolution, Dadan's involvement also took on a personal dimension when his father disappeared from a street corner in Aleppo -- and into the hands of the president's feared internal security agents. He has not been seen or heard from since.

As the battle for Aleppo raged, Dadan found himself part of the team that improbably captured an army command post which orchestrated attacks on checkpoints in the city's rebel-held districts. It would prove to be his final involvement in the war. "We had taken it and Uday was guarding the gate when he was shot in the head," Faisaz Hamsha, Dadan's commander, said yesterday.

Dadan might have survived; he lived long enough to be transported to a rebel field hospital in the town of Suran, 20 miles north of the city. That he did not testifies to the fact that the rebels' medical supplies are as inferior as their battlefield weapons.

"We could do nothing to save him. I am a dentist and not trained in this kind of special surgery," said Alwa Hajjab, the only medical officer at the facility. "There are no ambulances and he had lost consciousness on the way."


Dadan was one of at least 23 opposition fighters that have died since the government counter-offensive in Aleppo began last week, and his story is a familiar one. Syria's rebel ranks may be spearheaded by defecting army soldiers, but their numbers have been swelled by many youngsters.

Arrayed against them stands Mr Assad's army, weakened by defections but still vastly superior in firepower and numbers. For all the government's bravado, rebel actions, often involving untrained young men like Uday Dadan, have proved audacious and frequently effective.

However, with so little firepower, they can only hold out against the government's forces for so long.

Yesterday, as in the week leading up to it, regime forces fired tank shells and artillery at rebel strongholds in Aleppo, escalating a ground assault to wrest back control of Syria's second city and commercial capital. The regime strategy for now appears to be to soften the rebel positions with artillery before moving into the densely packed streets where their tanks can be at a disadvantage.

Having claimed victory over a rebel offensive in Damascus, the Syrian government last night predicted a decisive victory in the city, one that Mr Assad's ministers said could end the 16-month uprising altogether. The UN said 200,000 had fled Aleppo in two days.

"We believe that all the anti-Syrian forces have gathered in Aleppo to fight the government and they will definitely be defeated," Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, told reporters in Tehran during a surprise visit.

On the ground, the rebels were still hoping to forge a lifeline between the districts they hold in the north-east and south-west of the city. Such an outcome would undoubtedly increase their chances of capturing Aleppo, but the rebels have not managed to gain unquestioned control of a single big city yet and, to do so in Aleppo, they will need significantly more firepower. (©The Daily Telegraph)

Irish Independent

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