World

Beleaguered Rebels Mount Last Stand Against Russia

REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent

A Syrian rebel coalition launched a major offensive to break the siege of eastern Aleppo Friday, to allow humanitarian and arms shipments back into the city.

The offensive comes as Russia’s aircraft carrier makes its way across the Mediterranean, likely to boost an all-out Syrian, Iranian, and Russian assault on the city. The rebels reportedly burned black tires in an effort to obscure the views of Russian and Syrian planes as they sought to destroy rebel positions from the air.

A previous rebel attempt to break the siege of Aleppo was successful in August, but quickly reinstated with Russian firepower and Iranian-backed ground forces.

The offensive reportedly includes al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate who launched a wave of suicide car bombs against Syrian regime positions, along with U.S.-backed elements of the Free Syrian Army. The coalition of Jihadi and non-Islamist fighters bolsters Russia, Iran, and Assad’s narrative that the entire Syrian opposition is a terrorist movement.

Assad and his allies justify their indiscriminate bombing campaign on Aleppo, and its besiegement as a counter-terrorism tactic. The United Nations estimates nearly 275,000 civilians remain in rebel-held Aleppo, with no access to humanitarian aid. The U.S. accused Russia of bombing a UN humanitarian aid convoy bound for Aleppo in late September, after a U.S. brokered ceasefire collapsed.

Syria’s rebel coalition faces fierce resistance from the air and on the ground. Nearly 60,000 Iranian-backed militia fighters are in Syria, U.S.-based security advisory firm The Soufan Group noted in early October. The firm highlighted that Iranian militias may even outnumber the actual Syrian Arab Army under control of Assad.

Reports in late September indicated nearly 6,000 Iranian fighters ringed the city of Aleppo, while Russia began using bunker busting bombs on civilian populations.

“Civilians are being bombed by Syrian and Russian forces, and if they survive that, they will starve tomorrow,” UN humanitarian aid chief Stephen O’Brien told reporters Thursday. “Aleppo has essentially become a kill zone.”

“If we needed to be preached to, we would go to a church,” Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin scoffed back at the accusation.

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