Syrian Rebels Breach Aleppo Siege

Syrian Rebels Breach Aleppo Siege

BEIRUT (AP) -- Rebels breached the Syrian government siege on opposition neighborhoods in the city of Aleppo, marking a major military breakthrough that prompted an intense airstrike campaign Sunday, the opposition, residents and pro-government media reported.

In a wide offensive Saturday, an alliance of rebel groups, including the Levant Conquest Front, formerly al-Qaida's branch in Syria, pushed government forces and allied fighters out of a number of military colleges, a warehouse, a bakery, a parking lot and a section of the highway in the southern Ramouseh district where fighting has raged for a week.

The rebels hailed the breach as a major achievement after fighters besieged in the city coordinated with the Army of Conquest Alliance, which includes the former al-Qaida affiliate based in neighboring Idlib province. The group had announced it is breaking ties with the global terror network a week earlier, citing improved coordination with other rebels as a motive.

The war media arm of Lebanon's Hezbollah, the group fighting alongside the Syrian government, conceded the rebels' advance, adding that airstrikes leveled one of the military colleges after forces withdrew.

The Levant Conquest Front posted pictures of loot from one of the military academies, the artillery school, including armored vehicles and ammunition.

Syrian State news agency SANA said the government had declared that operations were still ongoing in the area. It said warplanes targeted rebel vehicles in the area Sunday.

Last month, the Syrian government seized the Castillo road, the only route into rebel-held areas in northern Aleppo, prompting a rebel counteroffensive from the city's south to attempt to break the siege. The U.N. said 300,000 people were trapped, making Aleppo one of the largest besieged areas in Syria. The government and major ally Russia had offered corridors for residents to leave rebel-held areas, an offer met with skepticism from the locals who viewed it as an attempt to depopulate the area.

The rebel advance in the Ramouseh district now endangers a major highway linking the government-controlled part of Aleppo to the outside world, leaving an estimated population of 1.2 million at risk of losing a supply line. The Castillo road remains under government control but activists say it regularly comes under fire.

Rami Abdurrahman, the chief of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said food prices in government-held parts of Aleppo have already gone up. He said some 700 fighters from the government and the insurgent side were killed in the week of fighting.

Mohammed Khandakani, a resident of rebel-held Aleppo who accompanied the fighters to the frontline Saturday, said heavy bombing on the aeronautics school resulted in massive explosions. He suspected that the warplanes were destroying ammunition. He said clashes continued because parts of the Ramouseh district remain in government hands.

A doctor in rebel-held Aleppo, Farida, who declined to give her last name out of concern for the safety of her family in government held-areas, said an intense bombing campaign is taking place inside the city. She said there were reports that one truck carrying vegetables had entered the besieged area, but said she had not seen it, suspecting the vegetables were quickly sold. She said residents have a great need for basic commodities and fuel.

Several videos posted by the insurgents showed fighters besieged in Ramouseh embracing those who arrived from outside Aleppo. One rebel fighter said the operation to liberate all of Aleppo now begins.

A statement by the operation room for the Conquest of Aleppo, which represents factions inside Aleppo that include Western-backed rebels, said that all those who decide to drop their weapons and move to rebel-controlled areas will be safe.

(KA)