Rebels hail break in siege of Aleppo

Syrian rebels broke through to besieged opposition-held areas in eastern Aleppo on Saturday in an assault on a major government military complex meant to end a month-long siege, according to insurgents and a monitoring group.

Pro-government media outlets denied the siege had been broken and a US State Department official said the situation was “too fluid” to comment.

The heavy fighting and air strikes reported from the area seemed to indicate any passage that may have been opened would be far from secure enough for civilians to travel through.

Rebels have been trying to break through a thin strip of government-controlled territory to reconnect insurgent areas in western Syria with their encircled sector of eastern Aleppo, in effect breaking a government siege begun last month.

The offensive against the government’s Ramousah military complex, which contains a number of military colleges, began on Friday.

Taking control of Ramousah and linking up with eastern Aleppo would isolate government-held western Aleppo by cutting the southern route out toward the capital Damascus.

It would also give rebels access to armaments stored in the base the Syrian army has used in the five-year conflict as a strategic platform from which to shell opposition targets.

Two rebel groups and a monitor said on Saturday they had broken the siege, but pro-government media outlets denied the claim and said the Syrian army was in fact regaining recently-taken territory from rebels.

“We’ve seen reports but the situation is fluid and we aren’t going to provide battlefield updates,” the State Department official told Reuters.

Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly the al Qaeda- affiliated Nusra Front, said in an online statement: “Fighters from outside the city met their brother fighters from inside the city, and work is under way to establish control over remaining positions to break the siege.”

A commander from a more moderate rebel group also told Reuters the siege had been broken but said matters were “not easy”.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said intense fighting and heavy air strikes meant no secure corridor had yet been established between the two rebel-held territories.

In another report, the Observatory said an air strike near a hospital in Syria on Saturday killed 10 people,including children, and damaged the hospital.

July was the worst month yet for attacks on medical facilities in the country, a medical charity said, with 43 recorded attacks on healthcare facilities in Syria.

The hospital is in Meles, about 15km from Idlib city in rebel-held Idlib province.

Syrian government and allied Russian warplanes operate in Syria but it was not known which aircraft carried out the strike.

Meanwhile Pope Francis has said civilian victims of Syria’s civil war are paying the price for the “the lack of desire for peace by the powerful.”

The Pope, speaking yesterday after the traditional Angelus prayer, said that “it’s unacceptable that so many helpless — including many children — must pay the price of the conflict, the price of closed hearts and the lack of desire for peace by the powerful.”

He cited in particular the suffering around Aleppo.


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