Thousands of Syrian rebel fighters have joined forces to push back the army, in “the great battle for Aleppo” that they hope will end the siege. Some 10,000 fighters have launched an assault against government troops south of the city, in a last-ditch effort to open routes out of opposition-held areas which have been closed for weeks. Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate and the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham were on Wednesday trying to take Ramussa, a district in Aleppo’s southwest suburbs which houses a government artillery base.
More moderate opposition groups under the Free Syrian Army banner have launched their own offensives inside the city, but have so far refused to fight alongside the jihadists on the outskirts. In the last few days the Islamist rebels had made gains, but the Syrian army, backed by allied Russian warplanes, on Wednesday launched a fierce fightback. More than 50 rebel fighters and “dozens” of regime forces have been killed since the offensive began on Sunday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
Some 300,000 residents of the opposition-held east of the city have been trapped since government forces blockaded the final road out last month. Petrol has run out and food is scarce. Aid agencies warn there is just two weeks’ worth of supplies and have called for aid to be let in. Russia last week announced the opening of humanitarian corridors for civilians and unarmed rebels. However, so far fewer than 200 residents of the rebel-held side have left through the supposed safe passages. With all four leading out to government-held areas, residents are worried they could be arrested or killed as they leave.