Momentum for Aleppo battle building
DAMASCUS - A conclusive battle appears to be raging in the northern city of Aleppo amid a complicated situation created by conflicting interests of international players in the Syrian conflict.
While peace talks tottered in Geneva, the Aleppo conflict has seen a new twist with the outbreak of fighting on seven fronts in Aleppo, an all-out brawl involving all warring sides.
The fighting in Aleppo took its toll on the Geneva talks, with the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) suspending its participation.
The military reality and the diversity of groups involved reflect the thorny situation in Syria. On Al- Eis front, al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and detachments from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and al-Jabha al-Shamiyah fought Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Fatimiyun Brigade operating under Hezbollah. The pro-regime National Defence Force battled the Free Syrian Army inside the city.
North of Aleppo near Handarat Camp, al-Quds Brigade of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) led the fight against opposition forces. Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) engaged Jabhat al-Nusra and opposition groups in the Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood of Aleppo and against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Azaz and the Techrine dam area north-east of Aleppo.
Russian warplanes carried out round-the-clock sorties against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. The United States dispatched Apache helicopters to support the Kurds and the FSA against ISIS in Aleppo’s countryside.
Turkish cannons were fired at ISIS and Kurdish positions to keep them away from the Turkish border. ISIS and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have claimed responsibility for terror explosions in Turkish cities.
Saudi Arabia was strongly backing the Islamic Movement of Ahrar ash-Sham and Iran ordered special forces units to support Hezbollah at Al-Hadher and Al-Eis.
The crisis became even murkier and more complicated after opposition forces used a heat-seeking missile to down a Syrian warplane over Al-Eis on April 5th. Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi declared that the army was preparing to take Aleppo with support from the Russians. Russia denied the claim and its media circulated news that the Syrian opposition had acquired 85 man-held, anti-aircraft missiles.
Seven weeks into the cease-fire, violence flared on several fronts. ISIS attacked Khanaser to cut off Aleppo governorate from the rest of the country. The Russian-backed Syrian Air Force widened its zone of operations to the entire country, prompting the opposition to suspend participation in the Geneva talks and launch its Rad al-Mazalam (Fighting Injustices) battle.
Moscow and Washington are still talking about a ceasefire in Syria and insist on maintaining it despite the truce crumbling on the field.
Observers say political wrangling following the battles for Aleppo will be crucial in reaching a political settlement for the Syrian crisis. It is very likely that the price for stopping the fighting near Aleppo will be for the opposition to give up its demand for Syria President Bashar Assad’s departure and reach a common understanding with the regime on a transition process.
One solution would be to appoint three vice-presidents for Assad. According to UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, the Syrian government and the HNC agreed to this proposal. Observers, however, said de Mistura’s proposal did not mean much because decisions in Syria are not taken by institutions but by individuals. When he was vice-president, Farouk al-Sharaa could do nothing. Najah al-Attar, the current vice-president, is in the same situation.
The future of the Syrian opposition is still uncertain. Fighting on several fronts against ISIS, regime forces and Kurdish fighters is likely to weaken the opposition forces.
However, recent promises of more support following Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Turkey might change calculations on the ground. Some opposition leaders have publicly decried the lack of support compared to the kind of aid channelled to Kurdish fighters.
In short, the battle for Aleppo is not like any of the other proxy wars in Syria. It is a battle for the finish line. It is likely to either save the Syrian regime or bring it down.