Rebel forces launched a new offensive to break the siege of Aleppo over the weekend, evidently with limited success, as the assault was said to be “slowing” by Monday morning.
However, the rebels managed to inflict enough collateral damage with imprecise weapons to become as “appalling” as the Syrian regime and its allies, in the eyes of the United Nations.
“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,” AFP reported on Monday.
“Since Sunday, the regime has been taking the initiative and the clashes are less intense. The only thing that has been accomplished is partial control over Dahiyet al-Assad,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, referring to a precinct on the western outskirts of Aleppo.
Rebel rocket fire and car bombs killed at least 48 civilians over the weekend, according to the Observatory, including 17 children. The Syrian army gave a much higher total of 84 civilians killed and said most of them were “women and children.” They also accused the rebels of firing shells loaded with chlorine gas.
Reuters quotes the Syrian military claiming on Monday that rebel forces “targeted schools and civilians, fired 20 poison gas canisters, 50 Grad rockets, and ignited 48 fires.”
The U.N. special envoy to Syrian, Staffan de Mistura, said he was “appalled and shocked by the high number of rockets” fired by the rebels during their offensive.
“Those who argue that this is meant to relieve the siege of eastern Aleppo should be reminded that nothing justifies the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons, including heavy ones, on civilian areas and it could amount to war crimes. Civilians of both sides of Aleppo have suffered enough due to futile but lethal attempts of subduing the city,” de Mistura said.
The Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn notes this rebel force includes quite a few jihadis, among them al-Qaeda’s unconvincingly-rebranded Nusra Front. He contextualizes the weekend offensive as part of a long, bloody seesaw battle for Aleppo that the insurgents have been slowly, steadily losing:
Despite some early victories by the insurgents, the Assad-Russia-Iran axis struck back, recapturing lost ground and squeezing the city. But the Sunni jihadists, Islamists and other rebels are attempting to break through once again.
The fighting is led by groups belonging to the same two coalitions that attempted to break the siege earlier this year: Jaysh al Fath (“Army of Conquest”) and Fatah Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”). Two dozen or more organizations belong to these coalitions, or are closely allied with them. Many of the constituent organizations in each alliance have streamed videos and released photos from the fighting on their social media pages.
The Nusra Front, renamed “Jabhat Fath al Sham,” is teamed up with another al-Qaeda affiliate, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and a group modeled after the Taliban, Ahrar al Sham. The Turkistan Islamic Party includes a hearty number of Uighur jihadis imported from China. Their enthusiasm for suicide-bomb attacks leaves their numbers a bit less hearty these days.
Another member of the rebel coalition, the Nur al-Din al-Zanki Movement, was supported and armed by the United States in the past — but formally allied with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front after its relaunch as Jabhat Fath al Sham. Videos of Islamist fighters shooting off American-made TOW missiles have been uploaded to the Internet, including some from the current Aleppo offensive.
Many members of the jihadi coalition are currently blaming the United States for the death of their “hero martyr” leader Abu Omar Saraqib. There doesn’t seem to be much gratitude for providing all those TOW missiles.
After-action reports from the Aleppo fighting constantly refer to the “3000 complex,” a key strategic point. The rebels say their offensive is still in progress because they captured part of this complex, while the Syrian regime says the offensive was a failure because the rebels didn’t take all of it. The 3000 complex is an apartment project. The rebels hit it with car bombs over the weekend. Small wonder civilian casualties are mounting.