Aleppo rebels strike back

The regime has lost at least 100 fighters since it launched "Operation Zero Hour" Tuesday outside Aleppo.

Rebels man a tank near the Aleppo town of Ratyan. (AFP/Zein al-Rifai)
Rebels claim to hold pro-regime troop prisoners. (YouTube)
Al-Nusra Front claims victory in Mallah. (YouTube)

BEIRUT – Pro-Syrian regime forces have suffered further setbacks in their Aleppo offensive as rebels continue to counterattack, inflicting losses on government troops.


Rebels notched successes Friday in a fierce fight back in the Mallah area on the northwestern outskirts of Aleppo, while the regime offensive north of the city aiming to cut rebel supply lines continued to grind down.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Al-Nusra Front backed by Islamist and non-Islamist battalions advanced in Mallah, taking control of a number of points.


“Advances were made after fierce clashes with regime forces supported by National Defense Force militias, Palestinian Quds Brigade fighters [from a nearby Palestinian refugee camp], Hezbollah and Shiite fighters from Iran and Afghanistan,” the monitoring group said.


“At least one regime tank was destroyed in the clashes and nine [rebel] fighters—including combatants from three countries other than Syria—were killed, while 15 regime forces members were also killed.”


The Al-Nusra Front announced Friday morning that is troops had taken control of the entirety of the Mallah area of Aleppo and were now fighting outside the nearby town of Handarat.


The group published a video touting its purported success in Malah, with a fighter saying “God has granted us the conquest […] of the Malah bloc and Osamat bloc […] which we have been making plans for.”


He added that the operation was “was carried out by Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar’s al-Bukhari Battalion, Ansar al-Khilafah and the Al-Nusra Front.”


“They wanted to besiege the city of Aleppo and by the grace of God almighty, God wanted something else.”


Battles north of Aleppo


Meanwhile, insurgents continued to hold back the regime’s “Operation Zero Hour” offensive north of Aleppo launched under the cover of heavy fog in the early hours of Tuesday.


The government fighters had seized Bashkuy and raided Ratyan, both of which lie a little over 10 kilometers north of Aleppo and 6 kilometers southwest of Nubl and Zahraa, two Shiite-populated towns besieged by Islamists since 2012.


However, the offensive quickly stalled as rebels scrambled reinforcements to push back regime forces in Ratyan and the town of Hardatnayn to the north.


The SOHR reported Thursday that the regime had lost 100 combatants in the offensive since Tuesday while at least 80 insurgents had lost their lives, with the group’s director saying that the regime’s offensive was likely to fail.


“Most probably the offensive will fail because of the regime's inability to get reinforcements and because of the bad weather,” he told AFP.  


Abdallah Zeidan, a member of the press office of the Islamic Front, told Alaraby Aljadeed that opposition factions have retaken complete control of Ratyan after the surrender of 27 regime forces and militia members who had fortified themselves in a building in the town.


The opposition, he added in comments published Friday by the London-based daily, has also retaken control of most of the town of Hardatnayn.


Furthermore, Zeidan said, fierce clashes were underway on the outskirts of Bashkuy, where militia and regime members are still defending themselves and trying to escape, as opposition forces besiege them, cutting off roads and forcing them to choose between surrender and death.


Pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar also reported Friday that the Syrian regime suffered setbacks in Ratyan, citing sources inside the town of Zahraa as saying that 68 Syrian army soldiers and militia members had reached the town over the last two days after the rebel’s assault on Ratyan.


“The field situation is not good in Ratyan,” one source told the daily.


“We took control of seven towns and farms faster than planned [the biggest of them in Ratyan, Bashkuy and Hardatnayn],” another source said, but added that the situation then deteriorated in Ratyan.


“Part of our forces advanced further than the line drawn out for them. When the militants launched a fierce attack they were able to cut off two groups from the army and the popular committees,” the Lebanese daily cited the source as saying.


The two groups then “moved forward and reached Zahraa, while a third group ran out of ammunition and [its members were] taken prisoner.”



Meanwhile, the Levantine Front, a coalition of mostly Islamist rebels operating in Aleppo, announced that three Iranian officers and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah were captured in Ratyan.

“Dozens of regime forces and militia [members] were trying to reach the towns of Nubl and Zahraa north of the city, which are under siege by the opposition forces,” the rebel coalition announced in a statement.


Activists say that “the number of prisoners [held by] the opposition has reached 50, including mercenaries of foreign nationality.”


On Thursday, rebels released a video showing dozens of pro-regime fighters captured near Ratyan being forced to tell their names, hometowns and the fighting force they were members of. A number of the men in the video said they were Hezbollah fighters.

Rebels man a tank near the Aleppo town of Ratyan. (AFP/Zein al-Rifai)

They wanted to besiege the city of Aleppo and by the grace of God almighty, God wanted something else.