Momentum for Aleppo battle building

Sunday 24/04/2016
Syrian civil defence volunteers resting following reported air strike in Aleppo

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.