Syrian army in swift advance near Aleppo, blocks road – monitor
(Reuters) – The Syrian army backed by allied militia has captured several villages north of Aleppo from insurgents and fighting has blocked a main supply route leading into the northern city, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.
A U.N. mediator has been struggling to broker a ceasefire in Aleppo and government forces had long been expected to try to encircle it completely, aiming to drive insurgents from Syria’s second city and take control of their main supply road.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-government forces had blocked a road leading towards the Turkish border as heavy clashes continued there.
The army also took villages including Bashkuwi and Sifat, while battles raged in Hardatain and Ratain, said the Observatory, which tracks the Syrian conflict using sources on the ground. It added that at least 16 insurgents were killed.
Aleppo is at the heart of clashes between pro-government forces and a range of insurgents which include, Islamist brigades, al Qaeda’s hardline Syria wing Nusra Front, foreign fighters in other groups and Western-backed rebels.
“It is very important, because if they continue like this they will completely cut the supply lines for the future. The Syrian regime is moving forward there,” the Observatory’s founder Rami Abdulrahman said.
More than 210,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, which will enter its fifth year next month, the Observatory has estimated, with fighting between numerous factions regularly flaring across the country.
Villages and towns outside Aleppo have passed between pro-government and insurgent fighters before.
Insurgent-held districts in the divided city have come under heavy air force bombardment, while Syrian state television said on Tuesday that five people had been killed and 18 wounded in “terrorist” rocket attacks in Aleppo neighborhoods.
A television channel run by Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside pro-government units, reported that the Syrian army had taken control of areas north of Aleppo. The Observatory said Hezbollah was involved in the battle.
The pro-government al-Watan newspaper said on Monday that government forces aimed to completely surround the city this week in a major offensive against insurgent groups.
In December mainly Islamist insurgent factions in Aleppo grouped together to form Jabhat al-Shamiyya — the Levant Front — an attempt at unity among their fighters. Last month the Western-backed rebel group Hazzm movement joined the alliance after coming under pressure from Nusra Front.
Recent Syrian army progress in the area has reduced the chances of a truce between the government and disparate insurgent groups, diplomats say.
Since October U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura has been working on a plan to broker “local freezes” in Syria.