Thousands of residents of Aleppo, Syria are fleeing the city and becoming displaced as the Syrian army advances into the rebel-held areas of the city. The offensive could be a major victory for Bashar al-Assad, the embattled President of Syria.
According to Reuters, the offensive into Aleppo, Syria began Saturday when the Syrian army and allied forces seized the Hanano housing district on the front lines of Eastern Aleppo. On Sunday, the Syrian forces claimed to have taken a neighboring district, Jabal Badro, and to have made significant advances into other areas of Aleppo. The current push by the Assad forces were preceded by heavy air strikes over the last several weeks from both Syrian and Russian planes. Russia is a staunch ally of the Assad regime in Syria.
“The shelling and aerial bombing does not stop and we [and] our neighbors decided to leave with the army approaching,” said Abdullah Ansari, an Aleppo resident who was forced to flee his home with his family of six.
Syria’s state media claimed that at least 1,500 people have fled into government controlled areas within or on the outskirts of Aleppo. Hundreds more have fled into a district of the city held by the Kurdish YPG militia, as that group has largely avoided conflict with the Assad regime and the area is seen as safer than being in the direct path of either the Syrian army advance or a possible rebel counter offensive.
Aleppo, Syria was the largest city in the country before the start of the civil war in 2011. Control of Aleppo is seen by both sides as being crucial for victory. For the rebel forces, full control of Aleppo would allow for a base of operations to mount an offensive on the capital city of Damascus. A seizure of Aleppo by Assad forces would neutralize a major staging ground for the rebel forces, who Assad and his allies claim are mainly composed of terrorist and jihadist agitators.
According to the LA Times, the Syrian government forces have been preparing for this major offensive in Aleppo over the last several weeks. During a series of cease-fire agreements, both the Assad forces and the international community under the United Nations have encouraged residents to leave the city. Rebel fighters were also offered amnesty if they would lay down arms, or safe passage to join opposition brigades outside the city. Leaflets were dropped on the city asking residents to flee during the cease-fire. However, few heeded these calls, and the tenuous truce broke apart quickly.
The speed and effectiveness of the latest offensive in Aleppo, Syria shocked many observers. It is likely that this will be the final stage of the battle in Aleppo, as the rebels are being pushed into a corner and divided into smaller units. Pro-government activists have been spreading a statement from an individual they call a “security source” in the Syrian army division of operations that suggests that the Assad forces are ready to continue until Aleppo is retaken.
“Whoever thinks for one moment that the army and its allies will renege on their goal to liberate all of Aleppo city is delusional,” the unnamed source reportedly said. “This is a final decision and there is no turning back from it.”
The Syrian civil war has raged since 2011, and has been a source of major concern internationally. The city of Aleppo, Syria has been divided between government forces and the various rebel factions since 2012. The New York Times reported that some 470,000 people have died as a result of the war, with many millions more displaced, causing a massive refugee crisis. The continuing conflict in Aleppo, Syria alone will likely raise those numbers.
[Featured Image by Manu Brabo/AP Images]