Opposition fighters in Syria pressed on with an intense offensive launched against a major pro-regime armed complex in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday, following gains on Friday, to try to end a siege of opposition-held areas in the city’s east.
Syrian opposition combatants are trying to break through a thin strip of government-controlled territory to reconnect insurgent areas in the west of Syria with their encircled sector of eastern Aleppo, in effect breaking a government siege begun last month.
Taking control of the Ramousah complex, which contains a number of military colleges, would isolate regime-held western Aleppo by cutting the southern route out towards the capital Damascus.
It would also give rebels access to armaments stored in the base, which has been used by the Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the country’s five-year conflict as a center from which to shell opposition targets.
Two Syrian opposition groups said on Saturday they had broken the siege, but a monitoring group and pro-regime online media outlets denied the claim.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham said in an online statement: “Fighters from outside the city met their brother fighters from inside the city, and work is under way to establish control over remaining positions to break the siege.”
A commander from another, more moderate rebel group also told Reuters the siege had been broken but said it was early days and matters were “not easy”.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the siege had not been broken but fighting was intense.
The Observatory, which monitors the fighting, said rebels on Friday took control of the Weaponry College and part of the Artillery College. But the Syrian army said it had repelled the attack.
Opposition combatants are now fighting to establish full control of the Artillery College, the Air Force Technical College and to make a firm link up with opposition-held eastern Aleppo.
A live Syrian state TV report from the outskirts of the artillery base in Ramousah, southwest Aleppo, broadcast the sound of gunfire, explosions and warplanes flying over.
The state television reporter said the Syrian army had closed the Ramousah road to protect civilians from a rebel advance, and a large number of army reinforcements had arrived.
Videos released by the Syrian opposition claim to show gun battles as fighters move into buildings in the complex.
Assad wants to take full control of Aleppo, pre-war Syria’s most populous city, which has been divided between rebel and regime-held areas.
A quarter of a million civilians are thought to still live in Aleppo’s opposition-controlled eastern neighborhoods, effectively under siege since the army and allied militia cut off the last road into opposition districts in early July.
Humanitarian groups say the situation in eastern Aleppo is very concerning.
Medical charity the Syrian American Medical Society said already depleted medical facilities were targeted by strikes 15 times in July.
Only 35 doctors remain in the city and over 100 people are in need of medical evacuation, SAMS Aleppo Coordinator Dr Abo El-Ezz said in a statement.