Fresh rebel push in Aleppo to preempt 'Russian onslaught'
“This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won’t surrender,” Zakaria Malahifji of the Tajamu Fastaqem Kama Umert rebel group told Reuters.
Yasser al-Youssef, a spokesman for the Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group, said Russia “is not serious” and its latest initiatives “don’t concern us.” He added that the Russian leader’s comments do not reflect the reality on the ground.
Molhem Ekaidi, a Fastaqem deputy commander, also accused the Russians of lying. “The [Russian] shelling and crimes continue and their planes have not left the skies of Aleppo,” he said.
State media said at least four civilians were killed in Aleppo by rebel fire in the west of the city. State media reported clashes in the New Aleppo, Al-Furqan and Zahraa neighboعrhoods, as well as an attack on the military academy in the southwest.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict through local contacts, reported that rebels attacked government positions with two explosives-laden vehicles. Images carried on rebel social media accounts showed debris and plumes of smoke rising over the city.
Regime and Russian air forces have caused high numbers of civilian casualties in Eastern Aleppo and across Syria, for which they have been accused of deliberately targeting non-combatants who support rebels and civilian facilities including hospitals and schools.
But the rebel push on West Aleppo has also claimed civilian casualties, according to Syrian state media and monitors. For this rebels, who include jihadist factions in their ranks, have been censured by the UN and aid groups.
On Wednesday, a Syrian opposition umbrella group denied in a statement any deliberate targeting of civilians by the rebels.
Ahmad al-Abda, chairperson of the Syrian National Coalition, insisted the rebel groups were keen to safeguard the lives of civilians, calling for the UN to conduct an impartial investigation to establish facts before issuing statements, in reference to accusations rebels could be committing war crimes.
The remarks came following a meeting between Abda and UN envoy Staffan de Mistura a day earlier in Geneva.
|"Aleppo is not Grozny..."|
Rebels ready for Russia
Reports surfaced earlier in the week of a planned Russian-backed effort to capture East Aleppo for the regime and its allies on the ground, who include an alliance of militias from Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon trained and armed by Iran.
Spokesman for the Kremlin Dmitry Peskov downplayed the reports.
"As for other speculation about some intelligence data, The Times hardly has any information about the Russian president’s plans," he told reporters on Tuesday.
As a major Russian deployment of navy assets is set to reach Syria later this week, analysts say even an intensification of airstrikes and missile strikes would not be a game changer, describing Russia's carrot-and-stick strategy as psychological warfare meant to pressure rebels into surrender.
"Aleppo is not Grozny," Syrian expert on Russian affairs Mahmoud al-Hamza told The New Arab, in reference to the Russian razing of the capital of Chechnya in 2000. Instead, he believes the show of force by Russia is meant to get the West to compromise on a number of issues.
"The results of such a major assault would backfire against Russia at all levels," he added.
Rebels for their part say they are ready for any confrontation.
Ammar Saqar, spokesperson for Tajamu Fastaqem Kama Umert rebel group, told The New Arab their response to Russian threats is the continuation of the "Epic battle of Aleppo."
The Syrian rebels "have the revolutionary will to withstand any Russian military operation in Aleppo...the Russians have nothing new but (further) killing," he said.
The city of Aleppo and its surrounding environs have become one of the main theaters of the Syrian war. It is the country’s largest city and its former commercial capital and represents a major prize for any side that can claim control over it after more than five years of war.
The rebels control the city’s eastern districts, which have been besieged by pro-government forces since July. The UN estimates 275,000 people, the vast majority civilians, are trapped inside with dwindling food and supplies. UN officials have condemned the tactic, employed primarily by the government across the country, as “medieval,” ”barbaric,” and in contravention to international law.
|Read more: Russia 'planning devastating Aleppo assault coinciding with US elections'|