Rebels in Aleppo attack, Putin cautious on new Russian raids

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29 October, 2016

Syrian rebels including hadrliners counter-attacked the army and its allies on Friday aiming to break a weeks-long siege on eastern Aleppo, insurgents said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said rebels detonated two auto bombs against government positions to the city's southwest and attacked with more than 150 rockets.

The city has been divided for years between the government-held western sector and rebel-held east, which the army and its allies put under siege this summer and where they launched a new offensive in September that medics say has killed hundreds.

Syria's civil war, now in its sixth year, pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi'ite militias from neighboring states, against mostly Sunni rebels including groups supported by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the United States.

Once Syria's commercial hub, Aleppo has been divided into the government-controlled west and rebel-held east since fighting erupted for control of the city in mid-2012.

Ammar Sakkar, the military spokesman for the Fastaqim faction inside the city, said "all the revolutionary factions, without exception, are participating in the battle".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said at least 15 civilians, including a woman and two children, were killed in rebel fire on western Aleppo, and more than 100 wounded.

Jabhet Fateh al-Sham - formerly al-Nusra Front - confirmed the offensive had begun on their Telegram channel.

"There is a general call-up for anyone who can bear arms", a senior official in the Levant Front rebel group, which fights under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner, told Reuters.

The monitor reported fierce clashes on multiple front on the western and southern outskirts of western Aleppo, with three suicide auto bombs targeting a checkpoint in the Dahiyet al-Assad neighbourhood.

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"The breaking of the siege is inevitable", said Yasser al-Yusef, a member of the political office of the Nureddine al-Zinki rebel group.

But a Syrian military source said the army and its allies had thwarted what he called "an extensive attack" on south and west Aleppo.

Earlier on Friday, Jabhet Fateh al-Sham fighters carried out three suicide vehicle bombings targeting regime forces in the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo, according to the SOHR, which said there were many killed and wounded from the bombings but could not provide an exact number yet.

The powerful role played by Jabhat Fateh Al Sham, listed by many countries as a terrorist group, has complicated Western policy towards supporting the anti-Assad opposition.

The assault, backed by Russian forces, has killed hundreds of civilians and destroyed infrastructure including hospitals, prompting global outrage.

The Observatory also said that Grad surface-to-surface rockets had struck locations around the Hmeimim air base, near Latakia.

The UN's aid chief Stephen O'Brien this week said Aleppo had become "a kill zone", adding that "nothing is actually happening to stop the war, stop the suffering".

The UN has been trying to evacuate the sick and wounded from the area.

The rebel offensive came as Syria's foreign minister Walid Muallem met his Russian and Iranian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Moscow.

Meanwhile, US officials have confirmed reports that a Russian fighter jet and a US-led coalition plane were involved in a near miss over Syria on 17 October, coming within half a mile of each other.


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