News / Middle East

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siegei
    X
    February 11, 2016 6:52 PM
    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of the city. They vow a siege will not be over quickly. But their plans are not being helped by squabbles breaking out among insurgent commanders.

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of the city. They vow a siege will not be over quickly. But their plans are not being helped by squabbles breaking out among insurgent commanders.

    As forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad tighten the noose on the rebels in northern Syria, rebel commanders and opposition politicians are scrambling to plan for a prolonged siege of the insurgent-held districts of the city of Aleppo. And they are coming up with contingencies for food, medical supplies as well as ammunition and arms.
     
    They believe the portion of Aleppo they control now can emulate the old city of Homs, which withstood an Assad siege for nearly three years.
     
    The rebel-held area of Aleppo will be a much bigger challenge for the regime to starve or bomb into submission, says Mazen Gharibah of the Local Administration Councils Unit, part of the Western-backed rebel Syrian Interim Government.

     

    Aleppo's needs immense
     
    “The difference is huge between Homs and Aleppo,” says Gharibah. “First of all in Homs, the area that was besieged was very small in comparison to Aleppo. In Homs we had 5,000 civilians besieged in a very small restricted area. In Aleppo we have more than 250,000 in a very vast area, Aleppo is one of the largest cities in Syria,” he says.
     
    He points out that the insurgent areas of Aleppo have a strong infrastructure of NGOs and pro-opposition local governance. There are more than 120 NGOs working in the city and in recent months opposition civilian authorities and the armed militias have been working well together, he says.
     
    Rebel commanders and opposition activists are planning to use tunnels to re-supply the city’s insurgent areas. And they say that even if the regime manages, which most expect it will in the coming days, to cut the small supply corridor remaining west of Aleppo, there are still smaller roads they can use to get some food and medical supplies and arms into the city.
     
    This week, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA) instructed international relief agencies it partners with to reposition as best they can food stores closer to the city and to move what they can inside. OHCA is updating plans it started drafting a year ago for an Aleppo siege, say European diplomats.

     

    FILE - Residents spread bread for cooling in Old Aleppo, Syria.
    FILE - Residents spread bread for cooling in Old Aleppo, Syria.

    International aid crucial
     
    U.N. and U.S. officials have warned of a potential “humanitarian disaster” in the event Aleppo is besieged by Russian-backed Assad regime forces. And in U.S.-led international coalition talks in Munich Thursday a humanitarian corridor for a besieged Aleppo will be at the top of the agenda, say U.S. officials.
     
    “There have been several meetings between local NGOs and local councils and international NGOs as well both in Gaziantep and inside of Aleppo in order to have an emergency plan, a response plan for Aleppo,” says Gharibah.
     
    Included in the plan is the setting up of a trust fund for Aleppo, which opposition politicians hope foreign governments and ordinary people around will contribute to as the siege unfolds.
     
    But the planning — especially when it comes to grain and food-stocks — is being made harder by the intensity of the fighting and bombing, the sheer force of the Russian-backed offensive and the risk of plunder and looting by militias, including the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

    FILE - Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters take up positions inside a damaged building in al-Vilat al-Homor neighborhood in Hasaka city, Syria.
    FILE - Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters take up positions inside a damaged building in al-Vilat al-Homor neighborhood in Hasaka city, Syria.

    Regime not the only enemy
     
    Earlier this week, the YPG stole 460 out of 500 tons of wheat from a rebel store at a village north of Aleppo.

    “We are doing now a whole strategy, and one of the strategies is to move some wheat inside Aleppo, at least 1,000 tons,” says Moayyad Yousef of the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), which was established in 2012 by the main political opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, to distribute aid.

    But that only will be enough wheat for just one month.
     
    The ACU is also moving wheat and food around northern Syria to try to keep the stores safe.

    “We are trying to find somewhere close to the border of Turkey but still we can’t find anywhere until now. You can’t figure out where it is going to be safe, you can’t, it is hard,” Yousef told VOA.
     
    Opposition politicians say they are harboring hopes that Saudi Arabia will send medical supplies. In 2014, the Saudis sent $17 billion of medical supplies. “That was fantastic and we need them to do that again. We need everything. We need food,” says ACU’s Yousef.

    FILE - Free Syrian Army fighter fires a shell towards Islamic State fighters in the northern Aleppo countryside, Syria.
    FILE - Free Syrian Army fighter fires a shell towards Islamic State fighters in the northern Aleppo countryside, Syria.

    Siege expected with or without cease-fire

    According to Osama Taljo, one of 25 members of the city council for the rebel-held area of Aleppo, it would take at least a year for the siege to force a surrender. “We are trying to provide what will be needed to ensure the city can withstand a siege for at least a year,” he says. “And I hope longer,” he added.

    Unlike Homs and Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that was under siege for two years, Aleppo has had time to prepare. He insists the morale of civilians in the rebel-held portion of the city is high — and so too their determination.

    “They have been used to all kinds of killing and all kinds of weapons and they have remained steady,” he says. He dismissed Russian offers of a cease-fire — made in Munich Wednesday. “Whatever happens in Munich, Aleppo will be besieged,” he said.
     
    Rebel commanders argue that the prospects for holding out for years are good. They point out that any siege imposed on Aleppo by the regime will have gaps in it and won’t be uniform — because some areas around the city will be controlled by the Islamic State and the YPG.
     
    “Daesh will still want to trade oil,” says a rebel commander, using the Arab acronym for the Islamic State.

    FILE - Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they gather for what they said was an operation to travel to the northern countryside of Aleppo to fight Islamic State fighters, in Aleppo, Syria.
    FILE - Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they gather for what they said was an operation to travel to the northern countryside of Aleppo to fight Islamic State fighters, in Aleppo, Syria.

    Lack of cooperation a worry
     
    But General Salem Idris, former FSA chief of staff, is worried. He still advises some of the militias on military tactics and says there is not enough coordination going on.
     
    “I am sorry to tell you that until now that is a problem,” he told VOA. “There is no central command for Aleppo even now. There are many attempts now to have what is called a military operations center for the northern suburbs of Aleppo. I don’t know if they understand what will happen in the coming days. In a meeting to have a tactical plan there were differences between them about who will control the border crossing at Bab al-Salameh, if they succeed.”
     
    Idris fumes: “They may lose everything and they still think about personal interests.”

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    February 12, 2016 10:10 AM
    Assad shall fall this year... because Baathist party represents a minority within a minority. This fact cannot be changed nor by Russian intervention, it is a tautology.





    by: Chris black
    February 11, 2016 7:40 PM
    It's almost time for the Syrian military undercover agents to rear their heads...they will reveal every tunnel and locations of fighters...

    by: C L Who from: USA
    February 11, 2016 4:06 PM
    All remaining "rebels" are IS / AQ or some close relative. Why is the official voice of the US so openly supporting terrorists, the majority of whom are not Syrian, and all of whom are supported solely by foreign money and arms? I thought there was an "anti-IS coalition"....apparently that's a PR creation.

    Prediction: the Aleppo rebels will hold out for two to three weeks and then surrender en masse.

    by: Anonymous
    February 11, 2016 11:34 AM
    "Aleppo Rebels" = AQ supported by Turkey

    No such thing as "moderate rebel".

    by: Villarreal from: Spain
    February 11, 2016 11:14 AM
    Who cares for those man eating animals supported by the West? Nobody except the West and their brutal dictators in the region: Saudi Arabia, Turkey...
    It is high time for those pirates to give in their arms and release the innocent held by them.
    The West, especially Turkey must quit habouring and supporting those man eating animals

    by: Derek from: USA
    February 11, 2016 10:18 AM
    The problem for the Aleppo defenders is they don't have a unified command structure. There are too many independent rebel groups operating in the city so their defenses are uncoordinated & chaotic. Aleppo is besieged by the Syrian Army & Russian air force. Neither force cares about civilian casualties to achieve their goal re-taking all of Syria & keeping Assad in power.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 11, 2016 12:47 PM
    Hey Derek _ Whatever the terrorists/rebels think of to survive and withstand the Russian and Syrian army blitzkrieg attack, is just pure propaganda and paranoid panic thoughts on what they can do with the few options they have left, because the Russians and Syrian army won't give them time to regroup, or no place to run, or no safe haven to hide, and if the US can't get a Russian and Syrian army ceasefire, they will either have to die as martyrs or become dead meat, or run like cowards? .. If the terrorists/rebels are fighting and dying for a cause that would make them martyrs, then now is the time to seek martyrdom, isn't it? .. are they true believers, or are they falsely impersonating them? .. true believers don't whine and cry when facing death? .. because they are in a hurry to meet mighty Allah?

    by: Walter from: Florida, U.S.A.
    February 11, 2016 10:17 AM
    It's sad, but the only way to get the gophers out of their holes is to bomb the hell out of them. Close their tunnels, and destroy their fool supply. What's striking is, the terrorists KNOW they are coming under siege, and they KNOW all they would have to do to protect the so called civilians is to move out of Aleppo.

    Of Course, the United Nations is prolonging the war and the misery of the people by supplying food and ammunition and arms to the terrorists. Just like it said, the U.N. is hiding food and ammunition for the terrorists, so all the civilians that die in Aleppo will die because of the U.N. and the U.S. There are NO civilians left there, so bombs away.

    The terrorists are losing. Why not drop the pretense of fighting for a better Syria and join forces with the true Syrian Army to destroy the foreign fighters that have been sent in by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the United States. They squall about the civil war has killed over 260,000 people, that's nothing compared to the United States war between the states when close to 700,000 died fighting, 95 percent white men.

    They can kill each other off over there, but it will gain them nothing. The Government and the Russians and Iranians are winning, so it would be best to cut the losses and get on with life.
    In Response

    by: cripes from: london
    February 11, 2016 12:58 PM
    Ref your repeated use of the word 'terrorist', there aren't any in Aleppo. There are only two terrorist groups - as defined by the UN and endorsed by the EU, USA and just about everyone else - in Syria, ISIS and al-Nusra. ISIS is out in the countryside to the north and east, al-Nusra is largely in Idlib and the central towns. I know that Assad and Russia daily call every opposition group 'terrorists', it gives them the excuse to batter them into the ground, but we shouldn't fall for that crude, fictional propaganda, which is aimed mainly at the gullible in the west.

    The troops in Aleppo are in fact predominantly FSA, about 30,000 of them, mainly local and home-grown Syrian resistance against the nasty Assad regime. Ref the idea there are no civilians left there, the opposition area is run by an elected civilian council, they say there are around 240,000 civilians there and are stocking for a year's siege for that number.


    by: JGinNJ from: USA
    February 11, 2016 8:52 AM
    Saudi Arabia sent aid? That says it all. These rebels have massacred or cleansed Christians and other minorities in the parts of Aleppo they control. They have looted and destroyed historic sites. Their vision of a future Syria is revenge and more radical Islam. The sooner they are exterminated the better.
    In Response

    by: JGinNJ from: USA
    February 12, 2016 8:37 AM
    To Jay - The American rebels risked a lot, but comparing them to the Syrian rebels is a significant stretch. You can't suspend judgment - all rebellion or rebels is not necessarily good. The teachers, students, engineers, shopkeepers and bookkeepers who initially peacefully demonstrated against Assad were quickly shoved aside by the organized and dedicated religious fanatics. There is an easy way to see this. Ask each group what their vision is of a future Syria, one without Assad. The response would almost uniformly be a Syria that would look more like Turkey or even worse, Saudi Arabia. I know people who live or have lived in Syria. None of them are or were Assad supporters, but their message is universally "one set of thugs wanting to replace another set".
    In Response

    by: Jay from: USA
    February 11, 2016 2:56 PM
    All rebels are terrorist and are only good if dead?? Do Americans forget we have our freedoms and liberties because a bunch of rebels, or terrorists to the British, fought and died to give us those freedoms?? Are our founding fathers really terrorists that should have been killed? Absolute ignorance! The ONLY reason there are rebels in Syria is because the Assad government began killing innocent civilians to stay in power and continues to murder hundreds of thousands of people indiscriminately with the full support of Iran and Russia. The real Islamic extremists in Syria won't be defeated until Assad is gone.
    In Response

    by: DadandAleppo from: USA
    February 11, 2016 2:18 PM
    Derek - Many Christian Armenians living in their lands in the early 1900s were rounded up by Turkey and were forced to march to Aleppo. The Arabs in that city helped save the ones that made it, and ever since that time Aleppo has had a strong Christian Armenian presence. Your wonderful US supported rebels have destroyed those communities, killed people, looted, burned and ruined churches and defiled cemeteries, all with the goal of turning Syria into something more like Turkey or more like Saudi Arabia, places in which minorities are treated poorly.

    The Armenians are not the only ones who have suffered. The Russians and Assad have to win, simply because the massacres that would happen if they did not would far dwarf whatever has happened or is happening now. Nobody, neither the Russians nor Iran, are pledged to keep Assad in power no matter what (read what they have said over the years). But they will not allow the Saudis and Turks to slaughter everyone who has supported Assad.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    February 11, 2016 12:05 PM
    Derek, you should ask this question: "How many more children, women & men will be killed to prolong the war?" By providing arms, medical aids, food supplies and military advices to the GOOD rebels (any good rebel is a dead one and all rebels are terrorists) is just prolonging the war, started by the West, with more death.

    The bet is if the West is to stop all assistance to the GOOD rebels, Russia will finish the war in a short time, at lease within Syria, but with some SAD one time collateral civilian damages. May be you know the answer to this question: What did Assad do to angry the West to engineer his country into war?
    In Response

    by: Derek from: USA
    February 11, 2016 10:15 AM
    How many Syrian children, women & men are you willing to see killed in order to support the Assad regime? Assad's forces have murdered more Syrians than anyone else in the regime. Is it OK for Assad to slaughter thousands of Syrians just to maintain his power?

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