On Thursday we brought you the latest from Syria, where Hezbollah and the IRGC have encircled Aleppo and cut off rebel supply lines to Turkey.
It was months in the making, but it now appears that the city - Syria’s second largest - will soon be retaken by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. As we’ve explained in the past, that would effectively restore the President’s grip on power as he would effectively control most of the country’s urban centers - even if that “control” is tenuous.
Eastern Syria is of course a different story entirely, as ISIS is dug in at Raqqa, the group’s self-styled capital. If the rebels lose Aleppo, it will represent a huge blow to the effort to topple Assad’s government. Saudi Arabia and Turkey know this, which is presumably why Erdogan was busy criticizing the Russian airstrikes that have facilitated the Hezbollah advance yesterday and why Riyadh now says it’s prepared to send in ground troops (to “fight ISIS”).
Now, as the Russian air campaign continues unabated and Shiite fighters advance on the city, civilians are fleeing what they anticipate will be a bloody battle.
"The Russian (air) cover continues night and day, there were more than 250 air strikes on this area in one day," Hassan Haj Ali, head of Liwa Suqour al-Jabal, a group that fights under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, said.
“Tens of thousands of Syrians fled an intensifying Russian assault around Aleppo on Friday, and aid workers said they feared the city which once held two million people could soon fall under a full government siege,” Reuters writes. “The last 24 hours saw government troops and their Lebanese and Iranian allies fully encircle the countryside north of Aleppo and cut off the main supply route linking the city - Syria's largest before the war - to Turkey [who says] the aim is to starve the population into submission.”
Now obviously that’s ridiculous. The “aim” is to keep the rebels (some of whom are ISIS fighters) from obtaining guns and TOWs from Turkey where the government in Ankara is desperate to salvage whatever’s left of the effort to oust Assad.
In any event, the fighting looks set to create a new wave of refugees bound first for Turkey and ultimately for a beleaguered Western Europe.
“Video footage showed thousands of people, mostly women, children and the elderly, massing at the Bab al-Salam border crossing,” Reuters continues. “Men carried luggage on top of their heads, and the elderly and those unable to walk were brought in wheelchairs.”
Here are the visuals: