ALEPPO, Syria — The regime’s Aleppo campaign has reached a new crescendo, with the controversial barrel bombing taking center stage in what is essentially a drive to depopulate the rebel-held east of the city. It's a horrific tactic that kills and maims innocents, and such indiscriminate heavy bombing may amount to a war crime. The battle has begun in earnest, although any anticipated all-out assault has so far failed to materialize. Instead, it is a careful, drawn-out and tactfully planned operation, seizing upon changing factors both on and off the battlefield — stalled peace talks in Geneva and rebel infighting.
Regime forces, bolstered by local militias such as the Quds Battalion, drawn from the Nayrab Palestinian refugee camp, and the National Defense Forces (NDF), comprised mainly of local Sunni tribes as well as foreign militias such as Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigades, have been making slow but steady gains in their campaign to recapture the city and surrounding towns, skewering vital links to rebel-held territories in the north and the northeast along the Turkish border.