17:27 Oct. 31, 2016
Fourth day of rebel offensive to break the Aleppo blockade: Putin is going to strike back
A rebel assault to break the siege of Syria's Aleppo slowed Monday amid fierce resistance from regime forces, as the UN said it was "appalled" by opposition fire on civilians, ‘Times of Israel' reports.
Rebels launched a major assault on Friday, backed by car bombs and salvos of rockets, to break through government lines and reach the 250,000 people besieged in the city's east.
Since Friday, opposition factions allied with some jihadist groups have amassed on Aleppo's western outskirts in a bid to end the regime's three-month encirclement of the city's eastern districts. While they scored an initial advance, the offensive has since slowed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor.
"Since Sunday, the regime has been taking the initiative and the clashes are less intense," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said on Monday. "The only thing that has been accomplished is partial control over Dahiyet al-Assad," a neighborhood on Aleppo's western outskirts that rebels entered on Friday, he said.
Map of Aleppo city area on late October (by Al Jazeera)
The Syrian Regime and Russian airstrikes were hitting the battlefronts on the city's edges, but with less intensity than in previous days.
"The momentum of the rebel offensive slowed after failing to take control of the ‘3000' apartment block and the military complex," a pro-regime military source said, referring to two built-up areas southwest of Aleppo.
Rebel groups have pledged to push east from Dahiyet al-Assad to Hamdaniyeh, a regime-controlled neighborhood directly adjacent to the besieged eastern districts.
Sarab Abu Abdo, a rebel commander in the Army of Conquest alliance, said fighting was "ongoing with light weapons" on Monday.
"We seized three blocks of the 3000 apartment complex, but the regime still controls most of it," Abu Abdo told AFP.
He said regime forces had tried twice to overrun Minyan, a village west of Aleppo captured by rebels on Saturday, but failed.
In a new toll on Monday, the Observatory said a total of 61 regime fighters and allied militiamen were killed in the assault, as well as 72 Syrian rebels.
Heavy rebel rocket fire since Friday has killed 48 civilians, including 17 children, Reuters cites the Assadite media. According to Syrian state news agency SANA, three civilians were killed in rebel fire on Aleppo Monday.
UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura said the high civilian toll raised deep concern. In a statement on Sunday, his office said he was "appalled and shocked by the high number of rockets" fired by rebels.
Opposition group Jaysh al-Fatth shells Assadite objects in Aleppo's Meneen district (by Qasioun News Agency)
Both sides blame each other of using the poison gas. Pro-opposition media like Orient News say Assad used chlorine gas twice just after rebels started their offensive.
"Few hours after opposition fighters launched military operations set for breaking the siege of the eastern parts of Aleppo on Friday, Assad's helicopters dropped barrel bombs containing chlorine gas on the areas of al-Rashideen, Khan al-Assal, and Dhahiyat al-Assad, leading to suffocation cases among civilians," report states.
Poisoned civilians of opposition-controlled part of Aleppo (by FSA News)
Russian and Assadite media write about that rebels "fired shells containing poison gasses at the residential district of Hamdaniyah causing 35 people to choke". In a statement on Monday government said rebels had targeted schools and civilians, fired 20 poison gas canisters, 50 Grad rockets and ignited 48 fires.
But as photo evidence, Russian media posted the photo of Assad army ‘Vulkan' rocket launcher, german journalist Julian Roepke noted.
Syrian army 'Vulkan' launcher shown as 'rebels foreign weapon' (by Sputnik)
A UN report, attacked by Russia as not having credibility, has also found that the Syrian military has used chemical weapons at least twice, Reuters stressed.
In the meantime, Putin sent a nuclear submarine to Syria. A Russian nuclear submarine operating covertly in waters off the coast of Britain is being tracked by the Royal Navy, 'Express' states.
The report reads: "The sub is believed to be one of three fearsomely armed subs heading for Mediterranean – easy striking distance of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. While the world condemns the flotilla of Russian surface battleships on its way to the east Mediterranean, it is the submarines that will unleash deadly metal rain on Syria's last rebel stronghold, experts warn".
‘The Times' specify: "The Royal Navy has been tracking two nuclear-powered Akula-class boats and a diesel-powered Kilo-class sub, which entered the North Atlantic from ports around Murmansk last week. They have joined forces with the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, which sailed down the North Sea last week".
Russian nuclear Akula-class submarine (by Wikimedia)
The biggest spike in fighting is yet to come, western intelligence warns. According to ‘The Times', Putin is set to launch huge attack on Aleppo and exploit western weakness to save Assad.
"President Putin will launch a full-scale military assault on the Syrian city of Aleppo as early as this week, according to western intelligence. The Russian leader plans to exploit a political hiatus in Washington during the presidential election and its aftermath to secure a decisive victory in the rebel-held east of the city by the middle of January for his ally, President Assad," the report states.