Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Information from within Syria indicates that the opposition Free Syrian Army [FSA] has carried out a “tactical withdrawal” from Aleppo’s Salaheddin district, in the face of overwhelming pressure from the al-Assad regime’s forces. However FSA commanders on the ground have stressed that this “withdrawal” is taking place within the framework of the opposition’s focus on nation-wide “hit and run” attacks and that a counter-attack will be launched in Aleppo.
Aleppo on Thursday remained subject to intense military bombardment by the al-Assad regime, particularly the Salaheddin district, which had been a staging point for the FSA. For his part, deputy FSA commander Colonel Malik al-Kurdi informed Asharq Al-Awsat that FSA elements had withdrawn from the key areas of Salaheddin district and were defending themselves along the district’s borders. He also highlighted the al-Assad regime’s heavy bombardment of the district, with artillery shells and air force bombardment, in addition to T-82 tanks.
The FSA also announced that it had killed Brigadier General Essam Zahruddin, Deputy Commander of Syria’s Republic Guards, who was overseeing the regime’s attack on Aleppo’s Salaheddin district.
Colonel al-Kurdi confirmed that the FSA had withdrawn from Salaheddin district, but stressed that FSA elements continued to have a heavy presence in the surrounding areas. He also highlighted his outrage at the international community’s failure to intervene and support the Syrian revolutionaries, who do not possess even the simplest forms of weapons to defend themselves and the Syrian people from the brutal suppression of the al-Assad regime.
Speaking from within Aleppo’s Salaheddin district, spokesman for the opposition Union of Aleppo Coordinators, Mohamed al-Halabi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the FSA has carried out a partial withdrawal from certain areas of Salaheddin district, stressing that the district had borne the brunt of 36-hours of continuous bombardment from the Syrian Air Force, T-72 tanks and T-82 tanks. He stressed that “the FSA’s military capabilities are not great, but they have been able to destroy 4 tanks and bring down one airplane.”
Al-Halabi also revealed that FSA elements are present in Aleppo’s Seif al-Dowla district, where they are continuing to confront the regime’s forces. He claimed that the FSA has set up roadblocks on roads leading into the district, adding “the [Syrian] revolutionaries are closely searching all the cars that enter the district fearing any sniper infiltrating the area, as occurred in the past.”
The Union of Aleppo Coordinators spokesman also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the al-Assad regime forces are targeting all districts of Aleppo without exception, adding that the regime forces are deployed in the northern areas of the city, particularly al-Hamdania district, which has been converted into a regime stronghold.
For his part, Commander of the FSA’s Dara al-Shahba battalion, Captain Hussam Abu Mohammed, revealed that the FSA had staged a “tactical withdrawal” from Salaheddin district. He added “the district is completely empty of rebel fighters. Regime forces are now advancing into Salaheddin.”
Speaking to Agence France-Presse [AFP], Abu Mohammed revealed that FSA fighters are still present in streets near the key neighborhood, stressing that “we are in the Seif al-Dawla and Mashhad districts”, east of Salaheddin district.
He asserted that the FSA had no choice but to pull out of Aleppo’s Salaheddin district in the face of heavy bombardment by regime forces. He said “the artillery and aerial bombardment are very heavy, and they are targeting all rebel-held areas surrounding Salaheddin.”
Abu Mohammed added “A large number of civilians were killed, as were some forty rebels. Forty builders have been flattened.”
Another FSA commander, Wassel Ayub, who commands the Nur al-Haq Brigade, confirmed that “the FSA’s brigades have staged a tactical withdrawal from Salaheddin in order to open a new front in Saif al-Dawla and Mashhad.”
He added “we had full control of the district last night, but then regime forces bombarded in an unprecedented way. The situation is terrible, and we have decided to stage a tactical withdrawal.”
Syrian state television announced that “our special forces have cleaned Salaheddin district of terrorists.”
For his part, FSA spokesman Kassem Saadeddine told AFP that the withdrawal from Salaheddin district “does not mean we are leaving Aleppo.” He stressed that “we have military plans to fight in the city, but we cannot reveal them.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed that at least 17 people were killed in Aleppo on Thursday, including two children and a citizen journalist. Aleppo has been the scene of fierce battles between the FSA and al-Assad regime forces since July 20.
Following the “tactical withdrawal” from Salaheddin district, the FSA have promised a swift counter-attack. FSA commander Abu Jamil told Reuters on Friday that “I have about 60 men positioned strategically at the frontline and we are preparing a new attack today.”