AMMAN: Syrian rebels captured several residential blocks in regime-held west Aleppo on Thursday, backed by tanks, car bombs and suicide fighters in the sixth day of a campaign to break the encirclement of the city’s east.
While it was not immediately clear how much ground changed hands, rebel military sources participating in the attack on west Aleppo city told Syria Direct that they “broke through the regime’s frontlines,” advancing into the regime-controlled New Aleppo district.
Syrian state media agency SANA did not report on losing territory around New Aleppo, but said on Thursday that the “terrorist attacks” on its neighborhoods in Aleppo city killed at least 12 people, injuring more than 200 others.
Around 11am local time Thursday, the rebel coalition, made up of roughly 20 factions, made advances for the first time since Saturday in what they call “phase two” of their Aleppo campaign.
The march on Aleppo city began last Friday from the province’s western countryside. Six days in, rebel forces continue to carve away at the regime-held provincial capital, adding to their weekend gains on the city’s periphery.
Earlier this week, rebel spokesmen and commanders told Syria Direct that unlike their first attempt this past August to lift the siege of east Aleppo’s 250,000 residents, the current campaign is not aiming to enter through the “closest point of entry into east Aleppo.” While rebels briefly established a razor-thin humanitarian corridor into the city’s east through such a strategy in August, the regime quickly regained control in early September.
The ongoing Aleppo campaign “is different from our previous one,” Captain Abdelsalam Abdelrazaq, spokesman for rebel faction Nour e-Din a-Zinki, told Syria Direct on Thursday. “For the first time, our aim was to take on the regime at their points of strength.”
The rebels’ goal for the “Epic Battle of Aleppo” is not just to break the regime encirclement as quickly as possible, but rather “to safeguard and secure their gains,” rebel sources told Syria Direct this week.
Today’s advances “will allow us to better defend our subsequent attacks [to break the siege].”
Thursday’s fighting concentrated on two primary fronts on the outskirts of west Aleppo. At the city’s western entrance, two suicide car bombs and heavy artillery fire paved the way for the rebel forces’ biggest advances of the day on the regime-controlled New Aleppo district. Less than two kilometers to the south, rebel forces once again met heavy resistance at the Assad Military Academy and 3000 Apartment Complex, two heavily fortified sites adjacent to encircled east Aleppo city.
After the day’s third suicide car bomb went off, opposition forces reportedly gained ground and “stormed the 3000 Apartment Complex,” Abu Hamzah, a spokesman for the rebel Ahrar a-Sham faction, told Syria Direct on Thursday. Pro-opposition media outlets on Thursday accused the regime of firing chlorine gas on the site after retreating from their positions.
Both rebel forces and the regime have accused the other side multiple times of firing internationally banned chlorine gas throughout the past six days of fighting.
On Thursday, the Syrian Civil Defense published images of an alleged chlorine attack on the Aleppo countryside town of Khan al-Asal, located just behind the rebels’ frontlines. The attack reportedly injured 12 civilians. The Russian Ministry of Defense, meanwhile, announced on Thursday that Russian military experts from the Scientific Center of Troops of Radiological, Chemical and Biological Defense of the Russian Armed Forces arrived in Aleppo “to collect samples in the areas where terrorists used chemical weapons.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense, which says it is “observing a moratorium on any actions in Aleppo” for the last 18 days also announced a ten-hour “humanitarian pause” for Aleppo on Friday.
Reconnaissance drones and warplanes have frequently been spotted over Aleppo, military and civilian sources tell Syria Direct.
The Syrian and Russian planes “never left the skies,” said Ahrar a-Sham spokesman Abu Hamzah.
“Not a day goes by without a bomb being dropped.”