Syr­ian rebels cau­tion civil­ians in Aleppo about of­fen­sive

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

A lead­ing north­ern Syr­ian rebel coali­tion warned civil­ians in Aleppo to stay away from govern­ment po­si­tions around the con­tested city early yes­ter­day as rebels and pro-govern­ment forces clashed along the city’s out­skirts.

Fight­ing broke out along the city’s south­ern neigh­bour­hoods and coun­try­side and its cen­tral dis­tricts af­ter a cease-fire to al­low rebels and civil­ians to evac­u­ate the city’s eastern quar­ters ex­pired Satur­day night. No evac­u­a­tions were seen dur­ing the three-day win­dow ar­ranged by the Rus­sian and Syr­ian mil­i­tary com­mands.

Govern­ment ar­tillery shelled the strate­gi­cally im­por­tant vil­lage of Khan Touman, which over­looks the high­way con­nect­ing Aleppo and govern­ment-held cities in the cen­tre of the coun­try, the ac­tivistrun Shahba Press re­ported yes­ter­day. Rebels led by al-Qaida-linked mil­i­tants took the town from govern­ment forces in a sur­pris­ing ad­vance last May, deal­ing a set­back to the joint Rus­sian-Syr­ian cam­paign to ex­pel rebels from Aleppo.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights mon­i­tor­ing group re­ported in­cre­men­tal ad­vances for pro-govern­ment forces against al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front mil­i­tants in the city’s south­ern coun­try­side.

Al-Ma­nar TV, run by the Le­banese mil­i­tant group Hezbol­lah, broad­cast footage of tanks and fight­ers ad­vanc­ing un­der heavy fire along a ridge re­port­edly in the

Aleppo coun­try­side. Hezbol­lah is fight­ing along­side Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s mil­i­tary.

A spokesman for the Nour el-Din al-Zinki rebel fac­tion in Aleppo said an op­er­a­tion to break the govern­ment’s siege of the rebel-held eastern dis­tricts of Aleppo was “com­ing.”

Yasser al-Yousef clar­i­fied rebels would not tar­get civil­ians in Aleppo’s govern­ment-held dis­tricts, but warned of col­lat­eral dam­age from the an­tic­i­pated op­er­a­tions. The fight­ing ran in par­al­lel with re­newed clashes fur­ther away from the city be­tween Turk­ish­backed op­po­si­tion forces and Syr­ian Kur­dish forces over ter­ri­tory for­merly held by the Is­lamic State group. The ac­tivist-run Aleppo Me­dia Cen­ter said Turk­ish forces struck over 50 Kur­dish po­si­tions yes­ter­day alone. The US has backed both the Turk­ish-backed forces and the Syr­ian Kur­dish forces in the area, though it has clar­i­fied that it does not sup­port the Syr­ian Kur­dish forces that have come un­der Turk­ish at­tack in the Aleppo coun­try­side.

The Turk­ish mil­i­tary in­ter­vened in the Syr­ian war in Au­gust this year un­der or­ders from Ankara to clear the bor­der area of Is­lamic State fight­ers and US-backed Syr­ian Kur­dish forces linked to Turkey’s own out­lawed Kur­dish in­sur­gency. The Turk­ish govern­ment con­sid­ers both to be ter­ror­ist groups.

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