Syrian Forces Besiege Aleppo

On Sunday, intense aerial and artillery attacks helped government forces and their allies drive insurgents out of the Ramousah military complex in Aleppo, according to militants and a monitoring group
Turkish troops head to the Syrian border in Karkamis, Turkey, on Aug. 27. (File Photo)Turkish troops head to the Syrian border in Karkamis, Turkey, on Aug. 27. (File Photo)

Syrian government forces and their allies again laid siege to militant-held eastern Aleppo on Sunday, while Turkish-backed fighters drove the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group from all the areas along its border, in two significant but separate developments in the multi-sided conflict.

The fighting—two potential turning points in the conflict if the gains can be sustained—complicated efforts by the United States and Russia to reach a ceasefire deal for Syria, whose civil war is in its sixth year, Reuters reported.

Talks by the Cold War foes on a ceasefire were set to continue on Monday, but “we’re not there yet”, US President Barack Obama told reporters at the G20 summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants to fully recapture divided Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war. Gains made by Damascus have relied heavily on Russian air support since September last year.

On Sunday, intense aerial and artillery attacks helped government forces and their allies drive insurgents out of the Ramousah military complex in Aleppo, according to militants and a monitoring group.

The militants had captured the complex in early August, breaking through a government siege of eastern Aleppo. Sunday’s government advances resulted in a new siege of the area, said Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group monitoring the war, and a Damascus military source also reported the new siege.

Russian support has turned the war in Assad’s favor in many areas, although militants have made some gains, including in Hama Province, further south.

Militants launched a campaign on Sunday to capture the town of Maan, north of the city of Hama, the provincial capital, said Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for militant group Jaish al-Nasr. Advances by the insurgents in recent days have brought them to within 10 km of government-controlled Hama, the Observatory and insurgents say.

  Turkish Offensive Drives Out IS

In a separate battle further east, militants backed by Turkey and made up of Aleppo-based factions drove IS militants from all areas they controlled along the Syrian-Turkish border, according to the militants, Ankara and the Observatory.

Some 10 days ago, Turkey mounted its first full-scale incursion into Syrian territory since the conflict began in 2011, aimed at IS and at US-backed Kurdish forces in the area, which have also been battling the militants.

The Turkish-backed advance denied IS its main route to the outside world, through which it has moved fighters and weapons. It was another blow for the militant group, which is under pressure in its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

With support from Turkish tanks and warplanes, the militants now appear to have secured a roughly 90 km stretch of land that Turkey long wanted to control to keep out militants and to stop the advance of YPG.

  No Deal Yet

Sunday’s advances illustrate the complexity of the Syrian conflict, which has drawn in most world and regional powers. Efforts to end the fighting have been repeatedly confounded.

A deal brokered in February by the United States and Russia fell apart earlier this year. Even before Sunday’s battlefield developments, Obama said the two countries were struggling to reach a new ceasefire agreement between Damascus and militants.

An agreement that would stop the fighting and allow more humanitarian deliveries had looked set to be announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Hangzhou.

Two lecterns had been set up in a room for a news conference. But Kerry emerged alone to say a couple of issues still needed to be resolved and the two sides would resume talks on Monday. He did not elaborate.

Officials from the United States and Russia, which back opposite sides in Syria’s civil war, have been meeting since Kerry traveled to Moscow in July with a proposal that would halt the fighting.

It would ensure that government fighters pulled back in some areas, including around Aleppo, to allow convoys of humanitarian aid to reach civilians caught in the fighting.

The ceasefire would be overseen through Russian-US intelligence sharing and military cooperation, which would focus on fighting IS and other militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.

The plan would need Russia to convince Assad to ground his air force, a move that Lavrov has said was not the goal.

A letter from Washington’s Syria envoy, Michael Ratney, to the armed opposition, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, laid out some of the ceasefire terms.

It would oblige Russia to prevent warplanes from bombing areas held by mainstream opposition, require the withdrawal of Damascus’s forces from a supply route north of Aleppo and focus on delivery of humanitarian aid unhindered by warring sides to the city’s population, said the letter, dated Sept. 3.

Fighting around Aleppo has recently cut supplies, power and water to nearly 2 million people in both government- and militant-held areas.

In return, the United States would coordinate with Russia in fighting against Al-Qaeda, it said, without elaborating.

The Syrian government and Russia were also to avoid bombing areas where insurgent groups are operating close to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, previously the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.