Syria: Assad forces tighten Aleppo choke hold

Syrian rebel fighters carry a wounded colleague away from the heavy fighting near Base 80 in Aleppo yesterday. Picture: Reuters

Syrian rebel fighters carry a wounded colleague away from the heavy fighting near Base 80 in Aleppo yesterday. Picture: Reuters

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Forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad, backed by a dawn barrage of artillery fire and air strikes, have driven Syrian rebels from a strategic military base near the disputed northern city of Aleppo.

The advance yesterday into Base 80, a large military position which rebels have held since February, will help Mr Assad’s forces move towards rebel-held areas of Aleppo city and follows a string of successful offensives this month.

However, the fight continued yesterday afternoon after rebels regrouped and clashed with the army at the base, activists said.

Opposition video footage showed rebels firing heavy machine guns.

Once Syria’s most populous city, the former commercial hub of Aleppo has been divided roughly in half by the warring parties. Rebels hold most of Aleppo province but the government wants to keep a foothold in the north, where rebel supplies flood in from Turkey.

A photographer at the scene about half a mile from Base 80 at dawn said he saw around two dozen air strikes and artillery hitting insurgent positions.

Rebels from Liwa al-Tawid, the largest insurgent force in Aleppo, told him that their unit as well as dozens of others had been pushed out of most parts of the base, next to Aleppo International Airport, which is still under government control.

Rebels told him 25 of their fighters had died.

A monitoring group that uses a network of pro- and anti-Assad sources said that the offensive was aided by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and pro-Assad militia.

The group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that hardline Islamist rebel units linked to al-Qaeda also took part in the clashes, which it said killed at least 23 rebels and several pro-Assad militants.

State media did not mention the offensive.

The armed forces captured the town of Safira, 12 miles south-east of Aleppo, a week ago. The army said at the time that Safira would be used to send in medicine and supplies to government-controlled areas of Aleppo, mired in a bloody stalemate for over a year.

Its capture would have helped yesterday’s attack on Base 80, on the southeastern fringes of the city.

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