By Reuters/Evelyne Wareh
Syrian rebels including jihadists counter-attacked the army and its allies on Friday aiming to break a weeks-long siege on eastern Aleppo, insurgents said.
The assault, employing heavy shelling and suicide car bombs, was mainly focused on the city’s western edge by rebels based in the countryside outside Aleppo.
It included Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a former affiliate of al Qaeda previously known as the Nusra Front, and groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner.
The offensive prompted the Russian Defence Ministry to ask President Vladimir Putin for permission to resume air strikes against militants in rebel-held eastern Aleppo after 10 days in which the army said it had not struck, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported. But Putin said it was unnecessary to resume strikes yet, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said more than 15 civilians had been killed and 100 wounded by rebel shelling of government-held western Aleppo. State media reported that seven civilians were killed. There were conflicting accounts of advances in areas on the city’s outskirts.
Aleppo, Syria’s biggest pre-war city, has become the main theater of conflict between President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran, Russia and Shi’ite militias, and Sunni rebels including some supported by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the United States. The city has been divided for years between the government-held western sector and rebel-held east, which the army and its allies put under siege this summer and where they launched a new offensive in September that medics say has killed hundreds.
Photographs showed insurgents approaching Aleppo in tanks, armored vehicles, bulldozers, make-shift mine sweepers, pick-up trucks and on motorcycles, and showed a large column of smoke rising in the distance after an explosion. Fateh al-Sham said in a statement that rebels had gained control over Dahiyet al-Assad, a suburb with a low-rise residential district of about a square kilometer on the southwest corner of the city.
Zakaria Malahifji, an official with Fastaqim, a nationalist rebel group in the offensive, said insurgents had captured the residential area but not the whole of Dahiyet al-Assad. The Observatory said rebels had gained most of the suburb.
But a Syrian military source said earlier that the army and its allies had thwarted what he called “an extensive attack” on south and west Aleppo. A state television station reported that the army had destroyed four car bombs.