Pro-Syrian regime forces were mobilizing on Tuesday for a ground offensive in Aleppo after attacking on four fronts in their largest assault since launching a bloody campaign to retake the whole city last week, a senior rebel official said.
Separately, an Iraqi militia commander fighting in support of the regime told Reuters a large force, spearheaded by an elite unit known as the Nimr, or Tiger Forces, had started to move in armored vehicles and tanks for an attack on rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo.
Pro-regime forces attacked at the same time around the Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat north of Aleppo, at the nearby Kindi Hospital area, in the Rashidin district in the center of the city and at the 1070 Apartments in the southwest.
Regime forces briefly captured Handarat from rebels on Saturday, only to lose it in a counter-attack hours later.
The senior rebel official said the simultaneous attacks had been repelled, but pro-regime forces were also mobilizing in two other areas near the rebel-held Sheikh Saeed district on the city’s southern outskirts.
“They are working to expand on any opening they create,” said the official from an Aleppo-based rebel faction, citing reports from his fighters.
“Today, the other noticeable thing is the heavy use of helicopters and barrel bombs.”
Syrian state TV said troops are now advancing toward the central rebel-held neighborhood of Farafra in Aleppo’s old quarter.
The Syrian regime forces, helped by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias and the Russian air force, launched a major campaign to take rebel-held eastern Aleppo last Thursday, leaving scores of people dead and a number of buildings demolished.
Syrian and Russian air strikes on Aleppo have prompted accusations of war crimes over claims they involve sophisticated weaponry that can have a devastating effect in residential areas.
It is not clear exactly what armaments have been deployed but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited reports of incendiary weapons and bunker buster bombs, while barrel bombs and cluster munitions have also been used previously in Syria.