Syrian Army and Allies Regain Important Aleppo District

A nationwide ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia was mostly holding across Syria on Tuesday and efforts to deliver badly needed aid to besieged areas including the northern city of Aleppo got cautiously underway.

BEIRUT, Sept 8  – Syria’s army and its allies have regained control over the whole Ramousah district of Aleppo, a monitor and pro-government media reported on Thursday, building on an advance last week that reimposed a siege on rebel areas.

If sustained, the advance would reverse nearly all the gains rebels made in a sudden push last month, tighten the blockade over rebel-held eastern Aleppo and ease access for the army into government-held western districts through the city’s south.

The battle for Aleppo has become the focus both for President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Shi’ite militias from Iraq and Lebanon, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and Russian air power, and for the Sunni rebels seeking to overthrow him.

In early August the rebel advance into southern Aleppo gave them control over the residential district of Ramousah, a complex of military colleges immediately to its west and the 1070 Apartment Blocks district west of that.

It opened a corridor into the rebel-held parts of Aleppo that are home to at least 250,000 people and had been under siege for weeks, while forcing the government to access its own areas in the city by a longer, more precarious route.

That rebel advance was accomplished by a push from the insurgent stronghold of Idlib, 50km (30 miles) to the southwest by both mainstream and hardline Islamist groups including one that only recently broke its formal allegiance to al Qaeda.

However, on Thursday the army and its allies “managed to restore control over all of Ramousah district”, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war that has a network of contacts across the country, reported.

“Units of our armed forces in cooperation with allied forces control the gas works, the tannery, the slaughterhouse, the post office and the military checkpoint area of Ramousah in Aleppo,” a Syrian military source had said earlier.

Parts of the 1070 district and a school remain in rebel hands, the Observatory said.

The government campaign to retake Ramousah and its surroundings, backed by intense aerial bombardment, also included a push on parts of the countryside to its immediate southwest, where the army and its allies took a strategic hilltop last week.

On Wednesday, an Iraqi Shi’ite militia, the Harakat al-Nujaba, said it had sent an extra 1,000 fighters to southern Aleppo to reinforce positions the army and its allies had taken.

On Thursday, state media reported jets had attacked rebel positions and movements around the village of Khan Touman, 7 km (4 miles) southwest of Ramousah, which the insurgents seized in May creating a launchpad to break the siege.

Syria’s five-year war has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced 11 million, half of Syria’s pre-war population, while drawing in world and regional powers, inspiring jihadist attacks across the world and sparking an international refugee crisis.

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