IN ALEPPO:

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Bassem Mroue

Forces back­ing Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad pressed their of­fen­sive on Aleppo’s rebel-held zone from the south, af­ter cap­tur­ing ar­eas on other fronts.

BEIRUT — Forces back­ing Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad pressed their of­fen­sive Tues­day on Aleppo’s rebel-held zone from the south, af­ter cap­tur­ing ar­eas on other fronts in re­cent days. As re­in­force­ments ar­rived, in­clud­ing Shi­ite fight­ers from Iraq, the strat­egy ap­peared to be to re­take rebel-held ar­eas bit by bit, backed by mas­sive Rus­sian air power, rather than risk a po­ten­tially costly all-out ground bat­tle.

Tues­day’s of­fen­sive on the city’s be­sieged re­bel­held east­ern neigh­bor­hoods camea­dayafter Wash­ing­ton sus­pended di­rect U.S.-Rus­sian talks on a Syria cease­fire — a move U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry blamed on Rus­sia’s re­jec­tion of diplo­macy in fa­vor of help­ing As­sad’s regime achieve a mil­i­tary vic­tory over the rebels.

The lat­est tac­tic of whit­tling away at rebel-held ar­eas of Aleppo rather than launch­ing an all-out of­fen­sive has proved suc­cess­ful in the past: The govern­ment re­asserted con­trol of the sub­urbs of the cap­i­tal, Da­m­as­cus, and most of the cen­tral city of Homs us­ing the strat­egy.

“The Syr­ian army and its al­lies are in a sus­tained of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture re­bel­held east­ern Aleppo,” wrote Robert Ford, a veteran diplo­mat and for­mer am­bas­sador to Syria.

“Un­less the bal­ance on the ground dras­ti­cally shifts, the As­sad regime will even­tu­ally re­take from op­po­si­tion fight­ers all of Aleppo and the out­ly­ing dis­tricts of Da­m­as­cus,” wrote Ford, a fel­low at the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton. “This may take months, but the bal­ance is cer­tainly in the Syr­ian govern­ment’s fa­vor.”

“Aleppo is the Syr­ian cri­sis and its lib­er­a­tion will end plans to di­vide Syria,” agreed Amin Hoteit, a for­mer Lebanese army gen­eral and ex­pert on mil­i­tary and strate­gic af­fairs.

Syr­ian troops and their al­lies have laid siege to rebel-held parts of Aleppo since July 17, ex­cept for a few weeks when the mil­i­tants were able to break it in Au­gust, un­til it was reim­posed in early Septem­ber. Soon af­ter, the govern­ment opened a cor­ri­dor for civil­ians and fight­ers to move to govern­ment-held parts of the city, and dozens of peo­ple and gunmen crossed af­ter a gen­eral amnesty was of­fered by au­thor­i­ties.

Since a cease-fire bro­kered by the U.S. and Rus­sia ended Sept. 19, rebel-held neigh­bor­hoods where 275,000 peo­ple live have been sub­jected to some of the worst bom­bard­ment by Rus­sian and Syr­ian war­planes since fight­ing be­gan in 2011. Hospi­tals have been among the hard­est-hit tar­gets.

At least 420 peo­ple have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded in and around Aleppo since the cease-fire col­lapsed, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights. Most of the deaths were in east­ern Aleppo, where scores of build­ings were de­mol­ished by Rus­sian and Syr­ian airstrikes.

“The regime is bomb­ing civil­ians be­cause of its in­abil­ity to storm Aleppo for years,” said op­po­si­tion ac­tivist Abu Fi­ras al-Hal­aby.

The As­sad regime is backed in Aleppo by Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah, the Pales­tinian Quds Bri­gade and Iraq’s Shi­ite al-Nu­jaba mili­tia, among oth­ers.

ABD DOUMANY/GETTY-AFP

Ac­tivists say 420 peo­ple have been killed and over 1,000 hurt in the Aleppo area since a truce col­lapsed Sept. 19.

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