6 August 2016 – By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Rebels are trying to take control of a key artillery base, in the most important battle of their week-long offensive to turn the course of the fight for Syria’s largest city Aleppo. The rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah moved into the base, southwest of Aleppo, on Friday after days of shelling and infiltration by fighters, dressed as Syrian army troops.Friday’s attacks began with a vehicle-borne suicide bomb, enabled by the infiltrating rebels. The assault soon claimed most of the base, including the officers building, two faculty buildings and an ammunition storage area.
With the Syrian military retreating to positions in the north and northeast of the base, intense Russian airstrikes prevented a collapse of the position. Iranian units and Hezbollah urgently moved troops from other fronts to take over the ground defenses.
Pro-Assad activists on social media carried messages from contacts in the Syrian military:
Aleppo triumphing. Our heroes…have repelled the most fierce of attacks….We destroyed their armors and communications equipment. We also disabled a tank. Their corpses are in the hundreds.
Rebels briefly pulled back under the Russian bombing, but soon re-engaged as fighting continued overnight. Two more vehicle suicide bombs were used against regime positions in the northern part of the base.
Syrian Military Collapse?
The artillery base, about 2 km (1.25 miles) from Aleppo city, is the regime’s third-largest in the country. If rebels capture it, they will be close to breaking the siege of opposition areas of Aleppo, imposed last month by pro-Assad forces who effectively cut the last route to the north.
Rebels could also separate the pro-Assad units from each other, hindering movement of men and supplies and threatening their own siege of regime positions in western Aleppo city.
Jaish al-Fatah has already imposed fire control over the southern ring road near Ramouseh, forcing regime convoys to take a long route around Aleppo to reach airports and bases to the east of the city.
Even if the pro-Assad forces can hold out in the base, the Syrian military is likely to be weakened by the assault. The base is one of the largest providers of ammunition to units throughout the country. Rebels seized some of the stocks on Friday, and another depot was destroyed by Russian bombing.
Even more importantly, the Syrian Army and National Defense Forces militia — many of whom reportedly fled the base on Friday — may no longer be a significant presence in the area. Instead, the Assad regime will rely on Iranian and Hezbollah forces, already prominent elsewhere on the frontlines near Aleppo, for the base’s survival.
Claimed photo of pro-Assad troops inside the base: Syrian State media is insisting that the rebel attacks were repelled, as is Hezbollah’s al-Manar. However, Russia’s English-language outlets are making no reference to the battle. www.mesop.de