Amid the ruins in Aleppo, Syrian rebels say victory is near

Reuters reports: The rebel banner of independence waves over the scorched streets and gutted cars that litter the urban battlegrounds of Aleppo, scars of a struggle in Syria’s second largest city that fighters believe they are destined to win within weeks.

The scruffy, rifle-wielding youths are undeterred by the fate of equally bold, but ultimately crushed campaigns by rebels in the capital Damascus or in Homs, the bloody epicenter of the 16-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

Careening through streets ripped up by army tanks on their motorbikes and flatbed trucks, young rebels with camouflage pants and Kalashnikovs patrol their newly acquired territory, which stretches from the outskirts of Aleppo in the northeast and sweeps around the city down to the southwestern corner.

“We always knew the regime’s grave would be Aleppo. Damascus is the capital, but here we have a fourth of the country’s population and the entire force of its economy. Bashar’s forces will be buried here,” said Mohammed, a young fighter, fingering the bullets in his tattered brown ammunition vest.

The government has also predicted victory in the fight to control Syria’s main commercial city. For days, the government has massed its forces for a major onslaught that has yet to come. Rebels say it is proof the government doesn’t have the ability to storm their territory.

The truth could lie somewhere in between: A state of limbo in Syria’s economic centre, paralyzed by artillery fire and an insurgency that has made its home in the narrow, ramshackle alleyways on the poor outskirts of the ancient city.

Mohammed and a group of fighters take refuge from the stifling heat in a dark safe house hidden down a crumbling Aleppo alleyway. They pore over a map of the city spread over the floor, tracing the neighborhoods controlled by rebels.

“We have made a semicircle around the city, and we can push in to the centre. Up in the north, the Kurdish groups are running two neighborhoods in the northern central part of the city. We don’t work together, but we don’t fight,” said a fighter called Bara.

“I really believe that within ten days or more, we have a chance to take the city.”

But across town, the smoking wreckage of the Salaheddine district in the south tells a different story. Bodies lay in the streets on Sunday as the army pounded fighters with artillery and mortars and helicopter gunships fired from above.

“We don’t know if they are going to try to finish the area off or if they are distracting us, and then come shell us again here in the east of town,” said Ahmed, a chain smoking activist, cigarettes as he debated with fighters insisting victory was near.

Salaheddine is the main artery out of the city and onto the highway that leads south to Damascus. State troops seem to have concentrated all their forces on wresting it from the rebels.

If the army, which retains overwhelming military superiority with helicopter gunships, rockets, artillery and tanks, cannot secure Salaheddine enough to get tanks on the ground, it would have to bring tanks into the city by going all the way around the province and entering from the other side, because minor roads on the city outskirts are mined by the rebels.

Both sides are trying to avoid using manpower. The army bombards from afar with its tanks or its helicopters hovering overhead. Rebels set up homemade bombs to blow up the tanks when they try to roll in. [Continue reading…]

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