October 24, 2016

Syria Aleppo siege: Fighting rages as Russian jets strike

Photographs were released on Tuesday by state media purporting to show opposition gunmen surrendering to the Syrian army in Aleppo

Intense fighting has continued around the Syrian city of Aleppo, where a rebel offensive is trying to break a government siege of rebel-held areas.

Over the weekend, the rebels tried to reconnect an encircled area in the east with insurgent territory in the west.

They set off a huge tunnel bomb underneath army positions in the strategic Ramouseh district.

The army has been fighting back with the help of Russian air strikes to stop the rebels breaking through.

Around a quarter of a million civilians are living under siege in rebel-held areas since government forces cut them off last month.

“We are now overlooking the Ramousah area but Russian jets are intensifying their bombing, which is holding us back from moving quickly,” a rebel commander told Reuters news agency.

Another rebel source told Reuters that about 10,000 troops, at least 95 tanks and several hundred rocket launchers had been deployed for what he described as the “great epic battle of Aleppo”.

The source said scores of suicide bombers had also been prepared to drive explosive-laden military vehicles into army posts.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has described the rebel offensive as the largest so far, involving fighting across the divided city’s main battle fronts.

Government troops supported by Russian warplanes have put up a fierce defence, the observatory adds.

“This has slowed the offensive and allowed regime troops to retake five of the eight positions that rebels had taken since Sunday,” observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The observatory said 50 rebel fighters and jihadists had been killed since the operation began on Sunday, as well as dozens of government soldiers.

It has been reported that barrels suspected to contain chlorine gas were dropped on the town of Saraqeb near Aleppo.

About 30 people, mostly women and children, were reported to have been affected. Chlorine gas can cause victims to become short of breath and to foam blood from the mouth.

It is not clear who was responsible.

The attack took near where a Russian military transport helicopter was shot down by rebels hours earlier killing all five personnel on board.

It was the deadliest single incident for Russia’s military since its air campaign began last September.

The Russian government has responded to US criticism over its actions in Syria by arguing that it is “unacceptable” to demand restraint around Aleppo.

Aleppo was once Syria’s commercial capital and also boasted a rich architectural and archaeological heritage.

Much of it has been destroyed or looted during more than five years of war.

Russia and Syria have announced the opening of what they called humanitarian corridors for civilians and rebels wanting to surrender but few people are reported to have used them.

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