Syria conflict: Rebels lose grip as Russian jets pound Aleppo

Attacks by Assad regime clear opposition strongholds and cause thousands to flee

Syrians gather at the site following a reported air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Kalasa in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on Thursday. Photograph: Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images

Syrians gather at the site following a reported air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Kalasa in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on Thursday. Photograph: Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images

 
SyriaAleppo

After a week of the most intensive bombardment of the five-year war, forces loyal to the Syrian leader are in control of most of the countryside immediately to the north.

Russian jets have pounded the area throughout the past week, as Syrian factions have gathered in Geneva for a faltering peace summit.

The attacks have succeeded in clearing rebel strongholds that had defied two earlier regime pushes, and allowed loyalist forces led by Lebanese Hizbullah and Shia militias to advance towards a large industrial area at the gateway to the rebel-held east that has been transformed into a wasteland over three years of bombardment.

The fall of Aleppo would be a devastating blow to anti-Assad forces. Opposition groups, among them the al-Qaeda aligned Jabhat al-Nusra, which sent large numbers of fighters to the city last week, have controlled Aleppo’s eastern half since the summer of 2012. Syrian forces, heavily backed by their allies, have remained in control of the west.

“They have not stopped bombing,” said one rebel leader who was in the process of leaving his position in the town of Hreitan. “All the hospitals have been destroyed. We have around seven attacks an hour every day for a week. There were more than 120 on Tuesday alone.”

Headed for Turkey

Ahmet Davutoglu

Roads to the south of the adjoining Syrian town of Azaz were attacked by Russian jets earlier this month. “They have done all they can to destroy supply lines,” said one resident. “The world has fast forgotten that we were the ones who kicked out Isis [Islamic State] two years ago. We have kept them out of the area since then.”

The stepped-up Russian attacks come despite Moscow’s stated commitment to a political process to end the war in Syria, which has been responsible for the greatest humanitarian crisis of modern times.

Russia’s intervention last October had the declared goal of battling Isis, which controls much of eastern Syria and has pockets of influence in the centre of the country and near Damascus.

However, military observers in the region and the US claim that at least 70 per cent of air strikes have instead targeted opposition groups fighting to oust the Syrian leader. – (Guardian service)