Syrian army to impose blockade in Aleppo

The Syrian army is launching attacks on Aleppo and its surroundings to try to isolate armed militants, in light of a visit by a Baath delegation to the city.

al-monitor A Syrian army soldier loyal to President Bashar al-Assad is pictured in a tank in the Ard al-Hamra district of Aleppo, after claiming to have regained control of the area, Feb. 27, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/George Ourfalian.

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war, syria, jabhat al-nusra, government, baath party, aleppo

Mar 5, 2014

With the launch of military operations in Aleppo four months ago, there were talks of a big battle coinciding with the arrival of huge reinforcements for the Syrian army and units from the National Defense Force. However, the battle was overrated. The army had a different plan (as As-Safir indicated last November), which relied on patience, successive destruction of some strategic neighborhoods and a blockade on militants within Aleppo’s neighborhoods, after isolating the city from its suburbs. Moreover, the plan involved protecting the industrial city to revive Syria’s economic capital. This would create thousands of job opportunities, thus encouraging some militants to give up their weapons and return to their jobs.

The military operations started last November after the army tightened its grip on the city of al-Safira and the surroundings of Aleppo International Airport. The army advanced from these regions to the industrial city, which is currently witnessing violent battles. The battles broke out after a unit from the Republican Guard surrounded the city and took over Shaykh Najjar town and the strategic town of Talat al-Ghawali. A field source told As-Safir that the hotbeds of Jabhat al-Nusra militants, who are still fiercely fighting, were consequently surrounded.

Less than 1.5 km north of the industrial city, Aleppo Central Prison has been under the siege of militants from Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front for 11 months. There have been several prison break attempts, and the prison was targeted with bombs and suicide bombers. Yet, all attempts failed, and the frequency of clashes has now dropped. The Syrian army has approached the prison and taken over the strategic hill where several cannons were placed to target militants who try to move toward the prison. Lifting the siege on the prison has become just a matter of time, and it is getting closer, while the army’s takeover of the industrial city is approaching. During the militants’ attacks, 600 prisoners and guards perished due to the lack of medicine and food resulting from the blockade.

Meanwhile, in Aleppo, the army has recently intensified its raids on the city’s eastern neighborhoods that are under the grip of the militants, thus leading to the displacement of most citizens to the northern suburbs. A military source told As-Safir that the army units are moving toward these neighborhoods, specifically the Hanano neighborhood. The regime has gained control of the latter, while moving forward with its plan to operate the industrial city and provide roads leading to it. Moreover, the source clarified that after the regime takes over the industrial city and Hanano, a new road might be opened from Hanano to the industrial city, which might contribute to the complete isolation of northern Aleppo suburbs from the eastern neighborhoods of the city.

In parallel, army units would advance from al-Lermoun toward Beni Zeid, which means that the army would control this region. As a result, a military siege would be put to isolate the militants from the northern side that is open to Turkey. The military operations are meant to divide the city’s neighborhoods — which have become devoid of citizens — to impose a siege on the militants inside, and to implement the scenario of the Damascus countryside. This scenario consists of signing agreements and truces that spare the army the painful efforts of destructive military operations that have a high human and material cost.

Regarding the military steps inside Aleppo, the military source revealed that the plan consists of “controlling the highways and roundabouts in these neighborhoods without going into the quarters and buildings.”

The source added, “These axes stretch from Neirab to al-Haouz roundabout, toward al-Shaar and Sakhour, and from the airport highway to Sakhour roundabout reaching Hanano barracks to Maysaloun, and from al-Shaar to Qadi Askar, Bab al-Hadid and Job al-Qubba and the Palace of Justice then the Aleppo Citadel. From the other side, the axes stretch from al-Mahata to Huzaifa Mosque and Al-Hajj Bridge, and from Sayf al-Dawla and Nazlat Al-Mashhad reaching Al-Hajj Bridge. After controlling these axes, snipers will be assigned to stop any moves outside these neighborhoods, which have become almost devoid of civilians, waiting for the militants inside these regions to surrender.”

The source confirmed that the first step to implement this plan in the city effectively started with a military movement east of the city and consisted of entering “Hanano, al-Haydariya, al-Halwaniya and al-Shaar.”

On the other hand, the armed factions started to take action to stop this scenario, but it was too late. They launched attacks on several strategic villages south of Aleppo, in order to block the supply route that the army uses (Aleppo-Khanaser-Hama). The militants attempted to advance toward Assan, Ayn Assan, Rasm al-Shih and the strategic monitoring positions and control these locations. However, the militants of the Islamic Front launched several attacks that failed. Meanwhile, military reinforcements reached these villages to protect them and to ensure a route for the army supplies.

The remaining fronts in Aleppo did not witness any significant moves, except for the ongoing digging of tunnels under the old city. The Syrian army is working hard to find these tunnels and destroy them before launching any attack in the city. Like other cities, there are archaeological sites surrounding Aleppo Citadel, which is subject to bombings also. Such operations seem difficult at the moment. Still, according to an archaeologist, the citadel has already been harmed by the close bombings that shook its foundations.

The northern front overlooking the town of Hritan witnessed a new movement, as militants attacked the Air Force Intelligence Directorate. This front had been calm for the past 10 months because the armed factions were busy fighting, and then, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants withdrew from the regions. As a result, new attacks erupted, but they failed. This is due to several factors, mainly because these regions were well reinforced, and the Syrian air force intervened to deter any attacks on this front.

In a related context, As-Safir found out that a Baath delegation, led by Minister of Justice Najm al-Ahmad, arrived in Aleppo for a visit, the goals and reasons of which remain unknown. However, after holding meetings, information was leaked and indicated that the goal is “merely party-related and falls within the framework of activating the role of the Baath party and working on restructuring it. These steps aim to pave the way for the next phase, which is expected to witness presidential elections — elections in which the Baath will face competition over the rule in Syria for the first time in over four decades.”

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