Syrian rebels dig in for bloody war at crucial Aleppo battleground
ABU MUSAB and a dozen of his fellow fighters step out into the middle of the deserted street.
Less than 500 metres away is the invisible line where Salahuddin, an impoverished area that has been in rebel hands for several days, ends and territory held by forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad begins.
The rebels, a ragtag bunch dressed in snatches of military fatigues, T-shirts and running shoes, set up a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).
The RPG goes off with a boom and as it arcs through the air the fighters whoop and shout “Allahu Akbar!” The sound of the grenade landing some distance away prompts more yelling. “There is no God but God,” they scream in unison.
Abu Musab, a rangy 28-year-old from Idlib province in northern Syria, came to Aleppo just over a week ago to join the crucial battle between the regime and rebels for this, Syria’s most populous city.
“Everyone knows how important Aleppo is for Bashar,” he says. “This is a major commercial centre and it is close to the Turkish border. Losing Aleppo would hurt the regime strategically and symbolically.”
Rebel commanders in the city give several different estimates as to how long they expect this battle to take. One told me a month; another said it would be a matter of weeks. “Only God knows,” says Abu Musab.
All agree it will be bloody, with the poorly-armed rebels fighting against the might of the regime’s tanks and fighter aircraft.
“Everyone here bought their own weapons with their own money,” explains Abu Musab, as he gestures around him. “We have no one to help us but ourselves.”
As he speaks, the deep boom of shelling can be heard from somewhere near by.
Gunfire crackles in the humid evening air. The rebels claim to hold up to a half of Aleppo but, in truth, who controls what shifts by the day, sometimes even the hour.
“The situation is still very dangerous,” says Abu Musab, standing in a doorway and removing his black balaclava. “We cannot take anything for granted but we believe in God and we trust he will grant us victory.”
He and his band of fighters use religious tinged rhetoric and they carry black and white flags emblazoned with the Muslim declaration of faith.
The Syria they dream of is a democratic one, says Abu Musab. “And we will fight for this to the last drop of our blood.”