REBEL OF­FEN­SIVE:

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Issa

Syr­ian rebels have launched a broad of­fen­sive for the city of Aleppo.

BEIRUT — Syr­ian rebels launched a broad of­fen­sive for Aleppo on Fri­day as the Rus­sian, Syr­ian, and Ira­nian for­eign min­is­ters vowed to in­ten­sify their fight against what they la­bel “ter­ror­ism” in the coun­try.

The bat­tle­field al­lies met in Moscow as the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment is look­ing to ce­ment its author­ity over the di­vided north­ern city and the con­tested sub­urbs of the cap­i­tal, Da­m­as­cus.

Fight­ing for Aleppo ap­peared to have calmed by the af­ter­noon after rebels as­saulted the city’s gov­ern­ment-con­trolled western side with three ve­hi­cle bombs and at least 150 rock­ets in the morn­ing. The Syr­ian mil­i­tary said the rock­ets were Rus­sian-made Grad mis­siles.

At least 15 civil­ians were killed in the vol­ley, ac­cord­ing to pro-gov­ern­ment TV sta­tions. The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Human Rights mon­i­tor­ing group also said that 15 civil­ians were killed, and more than 100 in­jured.

A re­porter in­side the city for the Le­banon-based AlMayadeen TV chan­nel had re­ported at­tacks on “all sides” of the city, “from the fur­thest points north to the fur­thest south.”

Sounds of heavy gun­fire, mor­tar fire, and ex­plo­sions were heard in the back­ground of his broad­cast, as smoke was seen rising above the city on the over­cast morn­ing. Pre­sumed gov­ern­ment or Rus­sian jets were also heard over­head.

An af­ter­noon broad­cast from the city on Le­banon­based Al-Ma­nar TV de­picted a qui­eter scene, though spo­radic gun­fire and mis­sile at­tacks were heard in the back­ground.

Rebels said they seized a fac­tory and pushed into gov- ern­ment-held neigh­bor­hoods in south­west­ern Aleppo, but the Syr­ian mil­i­tary said it had re­pelled the of­fen­sive from all fronts, with sup­port from al­lied mili­tias.

“The Syr­ian army and its al­lies are in con­trol on the ground and armed groups were not able to change the map,” the mil­i­tary state­ment said. “Fight­ing is still on­go­ing but the in­ten­sity has dropped.”

This is the sec­ond at­tempt by rebels to break the gov­ern­ment’s siege of Aleppo’s op­po­si­tion-held east­ern dis­tricts, where the U.N. es­ti­mates 275,000 peo­ple are trapped. U.N. Spe­cial En­voy Staffan De Mis­tura has es­ti­mated 8,000 of them are rebel fight­ers, and no more than 900 of them af­fil­i­ated with the al-Qaida-linked Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham Front.

The area has been sub­jected to a fe­ro­cious cam­paign of aerial at­tacks by Rus­sian and Syr­ian gov­ern­ment war­planes, and hun­dreds of peo­ple have been killed in re­cent weeks, ac­cord­ing to op­po­si­tion ac­tivists and trapped res­i­dents.

Rebels opened a cor­ri­dor to the east for the month of Au­gust after pro-gov­ern­ment forces first ap­plied a block­ade in July, but they were not able to hold it as the gov­ern­ment and its Rus­sian ally pounded the gap with ar­tillery and airstrikes. Pro­gov­ern­ment forces reap­plied the siege in early Septem­ber.

The set­back caused the rebels to pur­sue a dif­fer­ent tack, and they are try­ing to draw­gov­ern­ment forces into street fight­ing in the dense­ly­in­hab­ited western part of the city, ac­cord­ing to rebel spokesman Am­mar Sakkar. They are hop­ing this will dis­suade the gov­ern­ment and Rus­sian air force from us­ing heavy weapons and aerial mu­ni­tions.

“We want to force the regime into street bat­tles, in ad­di­tion to open­ing sev­eral fronts,” Sakkar said. “It may go be­yond lift­ing the siege to lib­er­at­ing the whole city.”

Fri­day’s at­tack be­gan with rebels det­o­nat­ing three ve­hi­cle-borne ex­plo­sives against gov­ern­ment po­si­tions to the city’s south­west and at­tack­ing with hun­dreds of rock­ets, the Ob­ser­va­tory said. It said at least one of the ve­hi­cles was driven by a sui­cide bomber for Fatah al-Sham, which also an­nounced the of­fen­sive.

Fatah al-Sham claimed credit for two car bombs, say­ing in a state­ment that a “mar­tyr­dom-seek­ing fighter” drove a tank laden with ex­plo­sives and parked it, be­fore it was det­o­nated and the fighter “re­turned to his broth­ers.”

OMAR HAJ KADOUR/GETTY-AFP

Rebel fight­ers pre­pare to fire a mor­tar dur­ing a ma­jor as­sault on Syr­ian forces west of Aleppo on Fri­day.

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