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Rami Sweid

Rebels readying for long siege following regime's Aleppo gains

Syrian rebels are preparing for a long siege should Castello road fall [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 28 June, 2016

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Syria's regime is making key gains in northern Aleppo, threatening to cut off the only remaining link between rebel-held areas and the countryside, as rebels prepare to withstand the siege.
As Syrian government forces backed by Hizballah and fierce Russian airstrikes make gains on the northeastern edges of Aleppo, Syrian rebels are concerned they could soon come under full government siege.

On Sunday, a Syrian opposition monitoring group and a TV station reported that government forces captured farms in northern Aleppo city, tightening the noose around the only road leading to rebel-held parts of the city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces now control half the Mallah farms, which means troops now can fire upon and close the Castello road that links rebel-held parts of Aleppo with the rest of the country.

State media aired footage from the area, showing Syrian army tanks and artillery pounding Mallah farms.

"The battles in northern Aleppo are now focused near the Mallah farms," Hassan Halabi, local activist, told The New Arab.

"The opposition is now trying to retake the farms, but have been unsuccessful so far due to fierce Russian strikes on opposition supply lines in the Castello area, Mallah and Tal Msaybin nearby," he added.

Russian warplanes have been relentlessly bombing rebel-held parts of Aleppo and surrounding countryside since June 25, allegedly using incendiary weapons and cluster munitions.

Russian warplanes have been relentlessly bombing rebel-held parts of Aleppo and surrounding countryside since June 25, allegedly using incendiary weapons and cluster munitions

All roads lead to Castello

Regime forces and their allies, led by Iranian-backed militias such as Hizballah, have been attempted to advance for two months towards rebel-held areas.

Regime forces and their allies, led by Iranian-backed militias such as Hizballah, have been attempted to advance for two months towards rebel-held areas.

Their main goal seems to be Castello road, a strategic 13 kilometre lifeline linking rebel areas of the city to their areas in the countryside.

Regime forces only need to capture a part of it to sever the rebels' only supply route. The rebels would find themselves in a very difficult position if the regime forces manage to cut off the road. This would place two-thirds of Aleppo, currently controlled by rebels, under a complete siege, entrapping nearly 200,000 civilians still in the rebel-held parts of the city.

The rebels would find themselves in a very difficult position if the regime forces manage to cut off the road. This would place two-thirds of Aleppo, currently controlled by rebels, under a complete siege, entrapping nearly 200,000 civilians

Although Syrian aid groups and organisations have stored large amounts of food and medical supplies in the city, this may not help much in averting a new humanitarian crisis if the rebels decide to fight to the bitter end to defend the city and try to withstand the siege.

The rebels are likely to hold Aleppo for months, if not years, given their experience in urban warfare and the fortifications they have established over the past four years, preventing sustained regime attempts to breach their lines.

The rebels have also stockpiled large amounts of weapons and munitions in Aleppo, an effort they stepped up since regime forces captured the villages of Nubol and al-Zahraa in preparation for the worst-case scenario.

The rebels may even be able to break the siege, in light of their previous successes in capturing strategic areas south of Aleppo earlier this month, including the area of Khan Tuman and its surroundings, against superior forces led by Hizballah and Iran-backed Shia militias.

On Friday, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah pledged to throw more fighters into Aleppo, which he said was the "greatest battle" yet.

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