Syria’s army is preparing to launch an assault on Aleppo, aimed at driving rebels out of the northern city and surrounding province, the Daily Star of Lebanon reports.
Preparations for the new battle come five days after the Syrian army and its ally Hezbollah—which is an Iranian brigade based in Lebanon—retook Qusair in center-west Syria, a year after the bulk of that region had fallen into rebel hands.
“It is likely the battle for Aleppo will start in the coming hours or days, and its aim is to reclaim the towns and villages [under rebel control] in the province,” a source in the Syrian security apparatus told AFP.
“The Syrian Arab army is ready to carry out its mission in this province,” the source said.
The pro-Assad daily Al-Watan reported on Sunday that the government army had “started to deploy at a large scale in Aleppo province, in preparation for a battle that will be fought in the city and its outskirts.”
The rebels took Alepo in July, 2012, and since then this major industrial center had been bombarded regularly by Army forces.
Al-Watan also said “the Syrian army will take advantage of its experience in Qusair and Eastern Ghouta [near Damascus] to advance in the [central] province of Hama and Homs” nearby.
“The consequences of the battle for Qusair will … map out the contours of Syria’s political future,” the daily added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Friday that the regime was deploying “thousands of soldiers” near Aleppo, among other things to try and cut off the rebels’ weapons supply routes from Turkey.
Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s media channel, reported that the army’s “Northern Storm” operation had started Sunday morning, with the goal of “regaining Aleppo and its countryside.”
Battles raged on Sunday near Al-Nubul and Zahra, two rural Shiite enclaves outside Aleppo, in Syria’s north.
“The aim is to use the two villages as forward bases to make advances in Aleppo and its countryside,” said Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh, a rebel commander who used to be a senior officer in Assad’ military.
“The regime considers that it has received a shot in the arm after the Qusair battle, but they will find that it will not be easy to advance in Aleppo,” al-Sheikh told The Daily Star.
Another rebel commander, from the Free Syria Brigade, using the name Salah, told The Daily Star there had been increased air traffic from the direction of Al-Nubul and Zahra for the last two days.
“We are forming groups to prepare but we lack ammunition,” he said in a phone conversation.
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