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Karim Traboulsi

Russia 'planning devastating Aleppo assault coinciding with US elections'

Russia has sent its flagship aircraft carrier 'to join the assault on Aleppo' [Getty composite]

Date of publication: 1 November, 2016

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Russia and the Syrian regime are preparing an all out assault on rebel-held parts of Aleppo that could begin as early as this week, according to Western intelligence officials.
Russia and the Syrian regime are preparing an all out assault on rebel-held parts of Aleppo that could begin as early as this week, according to Western intelligence officials.

The Russian intention is to take advantage of the US preoccupation with its presidential election to mount a devastating shock and awe attack on the city, according to British press reports.

The Kremlin's purported sleight of hand comes as the US enters into policy paralysis ahead of polling day next week.

The race is now tightening as undecided voters are giving the Republican 'pro-Russian candidate' Donald Trump a boost in the poll, while his rival Hillary Clinton goes on the defensive over renewed emailgate revelations.

Should Trump capture the White House, it would become even likely that the US would turn a blind eye to a Russian offensive in Aleppo.

The Russian-backed assault on the city, which is currently witnessing a last-ditch attempt by the rebels to breake the regime's siege on East Aleppo, would reportedly begin once its aircraft carrier group and submarines are in place off Syria's shores, expectedly on Wednesday.

A Western intelligence source told The Times on Monday a “crescendo of air attacks on Aleppo as part of Russia’s strategy to declare victory there" is now expected when the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier arrives in Latakia sometime between November 2 and November 8, the Election Day in the US.

 “We think that the Russians are on the brink of a major military assault on Aleppo,” an intelligence source told The Times. “There could be significant humanitarian consequences.”

Moscow’s aircraft carrier will be used to "enhance Russian firepower over Aleppo in support of the Syrian regime," according to the intelligence analysis.

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Offensive to end all offensives

Thousands of Iraqi militiamen could join the regime offensive alongside Lebanese Hizballah fighters and other loyalist troops, to offset the regime's severe shortage of manpower.

Many fear the assault would be an offensive to end all offensives, similar to Moscow's obliteration of Grozny in Chechnya, in that it could go as far as raze the eastern parts of the city where hundreds of thousands of civilians remain.

All efforts for a negotiated settlement in the city seem to have now failed thanks to the regime's breach of previous ceasefires, but also the rebels' refusal to disown jihadist factions as Moscow has demanded.

Russian Foreign Ministry official Andrei Kelin has dismissed the claim its aircraft carrier group and accompanying cruise-missile capable submarines would be used to bomb Aleppo as "absurd". But the formidable deployment of Russian flagship navy assets to Syria, and the difficult situation facing loyalist forces on the ground lend credence to the reports.

The reports emerge as the Syrian regime vowed on Monday to repel an attack on the government-controlled western part of Aleppo, as it continued to battle rebels in the city’s western suburbs.

A rebel alliance under the name of Army of Conquest, which includes jihadists, attacked western Aleppo, aiming to breach a months-long siege on the rebel-held eastern side of the city.

They captured al-Assad district on the western edge of government-controlled Aleppo on Saturday, and the village of Minian further north. On Monday, rebel media reported that they repelled an attempt by government and allied troops to regain control of the village.

Syrian state media and independent monitors have reported dozens of civilian casualties allegedly caused by "indiscriminate" rebel shelling of regime-held West Aleppo, which has been condemned by the UN and rights groups.

The rebels meanwhile denied claims by the regime that they carried out toxic gas attacks.

Russian and regime strikes on East Aleppo have claimed thousands of civilian lives, amounting to probable war crimes.

With input from AP

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