Aleppo is witnessing a state of cautious calm that is occasionally interrupted by an exchange of fire between armed groups and the Syrian army. The balance of power does not tip [decisively one way or the other], but it's currently favoring the Syrian army, which was able to cordon off the city and isolate the militants from the rural [areas] north of Aleppo that extend to Turkey. In this area, exchange of fire between the Islamic State (IS) and armed groups occurs in the vicinity of Marea city, with no advancement by either party.
A source on the ground told As-Safir that the battles in Aleppo and the surrounding areas had come to a halt temporarily due to the battles that erupted in rural Hama.
The regime forces conducted a series of consecutive military operations in rural northern Aleppo, where they gained control of the areas surrounding the industrial zone [of Aleppo], which is now completely secure and ready to be revived. An industrial source reported that more than 85 factories restored their activities. The army operations also included expanding toward the Handarat camp to cut off the supply route of militants into Aleppo and the towns Nebel and Zahraa. The said route is currently cut by force of shelling in an attempt to lift the siege of the two towns.
The source in the field explained that the commander of operations in rural northern Aleppo, Suhail al-Hassan, also known as the Tiger, has left the city and headed to rural Hama to lead the defense operations in the Christian town of Mhardeh. Mhardeh has been subject to consecutive attacks at the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra, which is threatening the Christian presence in the rural areas, including a large number of towns known for their religious and sectarian diversity. This has led to the interference of a strike force to prevent other tragedies. This comes in addition to the strategic location of the city in case armed groups take control of Mhardeh, as the security of all Hama will then be at stake.
The Tiger is considered the man for difficult missions in Syria. He was able to lift the siege of Aleppo and secure a supply route, in addition to liberating the industrial zone and the central prison. Observers concerned with battles in rural Hama believe that the mission will not be easy, given the high numbers of Jabhat al-Nusra militants and battlefronts, in addition to the fact that some of Hassan's forces are still in Aleppo.
A field source, however, seemed confident that the battle would be settled since the Tiger has "not lost any battles. He took back Ariha in rural Aleppo within days, entered al-Safira, the stronghold of extremist factions, and besieged Jabhat al-Nusra militants in their hideouts in the industrial zone." The source explained, “The fighting style that [Hassan] adopts is not defensive, but rather offensive,” which indicates fierce impending battles in the Nusra-controlled areas of rural Hama. The Tiger is also known for using a powerful arsenal in all the missions he leads, as seen with the airstrikes and intensified shelling.
These developments come as focus is channeled toward Hama, where Jabhat al-Nusra and IS are battling to control rural areas. Jabhat al-Nusra militants are located in northwestern rural Hama (Kafarsita, Halfaya) and are trying to expand toward the city of Hama and enter Mhardeh, while the militants of IS are centered in northeastern rural Hama in al-Salamiyah, which is linked to rural Homs. Al-Salamiyah constitutes the link between north, west and south Syria. Aleppo’s only supply route passes through this town. Rumor has it that this route was cut after IS controlled one of its fronts, however, this was later proven false.
When it comes to Aleppo, the residents have service and security concerns related to scarce clean water in the many densely populated neighborhoods, to which thousands of families moved from heated [contested] areas. Other concerns relate to bombs and mortar shells that are hitting the town in abundance and are fired from the northwestern part of the city, where extremist armed militants located in Bani Zeid neighborhood target the western neighborhoods of Aleppo. The shelling is focused on the Khalidiyeh neighborhood, which is witnessing large-scale displacement of its less contested neighborhoods. The regime forces strike back with sporadic artillery shelling and attacks without engaging in direct clashes in Jabhat al-Nusra stronghold.
Rural Aleppo is also witnessing raids that come alongside the continuous bombardment of eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo that are almost devoid of residents. These operations aim to impede the movement of militants who attempt to benefit from the preoccupation of the regime forces in the Hama battles.
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