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First food gets to Aleppo after breakthrough, Syrian forces retaliate with aerial bombardment

Several trucks carrying fruit and vegetables made it through the route opened by victorious rebels.

Published: 08th August 2016 09:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th August 2016 09:23 AM   |  A+A-

BEIRUT: The opposition-held area of Aleppo received its first delivery of food in three weeks on Sunday, after fighters managed to break the siege on the Syrian city.

Several trucks carrying fruit and vegetables made it through the route opened by victorious rebels.

The eastern districts of Syria's second city have been suffering severe food shortages since government forces cut the last road out on July 17. Aid agencies had warned of the risk of starvation for the remaining 300,000 residents, who have been surviving on mostly rice and lentils.

Civilians still remained trapped on Sunday however, as the road, under regular attack, was not yet safe enough for them to use.

"The Great Battle for Aleppo", as the opposition has dubbed it, saw an unprecedented alliance of around 10,000 rebels, Islamists, and jihadists fighting regime troops for control of the city's southern suburbs.

Much of the manpower came from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) - until recently known as the Nusra Front and affiliated with al-Qaeda - which brought in reinforcements from its various strongholds across the country.

Footage released by the group showed fighters from inside the city linking up with others on the outskirts after they managed to overrun the government's military complex in the Ramussa district, seizing huge caches of weapons.

Mostafa Mahamed, a commander with JFS, tweeted news of the victory late on Saturday: "When we unite, (President Bashar) Assad won't stand a chance."

Since the start of the offensive a week ago more than 700 fighters from both sides have been killed, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. Most have been suffered by the rebel side, which has been bombarded by Russian air strikes.

The news of the liberation was met with euphoric scenes on the streets of eastern Aleppo. But celebrations were short-lived after regime warplanes began pounding the city in retaliation.

Doctors at the Omar bin Abdulaziz hospital told The Daily Telegraph patients and staff took cover in the basement for most of night.

"Everyone is staying in the safest room," said Dr Fatima AlMousalem, whose hospital has been targeted several times in recent weeks. "We expected this bloody attack from the Assad regime. It happens every time they lose ground."

The defeat is a crushing one for Assad's government, which sees Aleppo as the prize in the civil war.

Both sides have thrown everything they have at the battle for the city, as each believes its fate will decide the outcome of the conflict.

But the beleaguered Syrian army has become increasingly reliant on air support from Russia, and on Afghan recruits and troops from the Lebanese Shia militia Hizbollah, on the ground.

The rebel advance now endangers a major highway linking the government-controlled part of Aleppo to the outside world, leaving an estimated population of 1.2 million at risk of losing a supply line.

Families in the western districts late on Saturday rushed to buy any food and drink left in preparation for shortages.

Eastern Aleppo is mainly controlled by US-backed Free Syrian Army fighters. Some in the opposition camp were uneasy about Islamists taking the lead in the battle.

"People love Nusra now they liberated the city, but they do not represent us," said activist Ahmad al-Abdullah, who was wary about the jihadists' intentions for Aleppo.

But the president of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group, hinted at the need for further cooperation among the "revolutionary forces".

Any such move would complicate matters for the US, which has been trying to reach a deal with Russia to jointly target jihadist forces while sparing non-jihadist groups.

"This is the final blow to the initial US policy meant to support the moderate opposition in Syria," Michael Horowitz, analyst at the Levantine Group, told the Telegraph. "Residents of Aleppo will, unfortunately, always remember that America did nothing to help, and that it is eventually the armed opposition that saved them."



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