Syrian forces advance on Aleppo, rebels fear another siege

The Wall Street Journal reports: Syrian government forces have nearly encircled Aleppo, preparing a siege to wrest control of the city from rebels in what would be the biggest blow yet to the three-year uprising.

The fall of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and economic hub before the fighting, could also bolster the ranks of Islamic State militants who continue to make gains across the country, as defeated members of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army switch to their side.

Rebel commanders in Aleppo say they are stockpiling goods as aid groups step up food deliveries—crates of lentils, rice, ketchup and baby formula—seeking to prevent the same kind of mass starvation that forced them to surrender the much smaller city of Homs in May.

Losing Homs, once dubbed the capital of the revolution, was a tremendous blow to the rebels. If they lose the battle for Aleppo as well, it could spell the end of their revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rebel commanders warn.

Regime forces now surround Aleppo on three sides, having overrun the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City in the east last month, and are trying to seal off the last rebel-controlled corridor, a 4-mile-wide access point to the northeast.

Tuesday, rebels and regime forces clashed in Aziza, on the southern outskirts of Aleppo, while government aircraft stepped up strikes on the old city, activists said.

Simultaneously, extremists with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, are encroaching on rebel-held territory north of the city, uprooting the FSA from the countryside.

“We’re about to lose Aleppo and no one cares,” said Hussam Almarie, an FSA spokesman. “We won’t be able to recover the revolution if this happens. And we’ll lose the moderates in Syria.”

Noah Bonsey, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, agreed. “The net impact of losing Aleppo will be the withering of the mainstream opposition” in six months or a year, he said.

“For the regime, this will be a crushing blow to the opposition as a viable fighting force and to its morale,” he said. “Some rebels may give up and seek a compromise with the regime, or look to join the only viable fighting force left, which is becoming ISIS.” [Continue reading…]

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