Jihadist Al-Nusra Forces Launch Offensive To Keep Assad Out Of Syria's Aleppo

Over the past month the offensive for Syria's second largest city of Aleppo, a military operation launched against the rebel-held town of Aleppo in late June 2016 by the Syrian Army, has shaped up as one of the most important conflicts in the three year-old Syrian civil war. The aim of the offensive, which was preceded by a surge in Russian air strike, is to cut the last rebel supply line into Aleppo city. However, with Assad's armies advancing on the besieged city, surprising reinforcements for rebel forces emerged when earlier today Al-Nusra's Jihadist forces, which until last week were considered  part of Al-Qaeda (until an amicable separation was announced last Thursday) attacked regime forces southwest of Aleppo in a new battle the remove the Aleppo siege.

Since July 17, President Bashar al-Assad's forces have surrounded rebel-held districts of Aleppo city, one of the main front lines in the conflict ravaging the country since 2011. Loyalists forces cut the Castello Road, the main supply line into rebel-held neighbourhoods in the north of the city. But now, as AFP reports, insurgents have attacked from the south, a region divided between loyalists backed by Iranian fighters and Hezbollah on the one hand, and Syrian and foreign jihadists allied with rebel groups on the other.

On Sunday, Islamist groups such as the influential Ahrar al-Sham and jihadists including from the former Al-Nusra Front, which as we reported was rebranded to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or the "Levantine Conquest Front", after breaking from Al-Qaeda,  said they had begun a battle to try to reopen a new supply route.

Fateh al-Sham launched two car bomb attacks against regime positions in suburban Rashidin in southwestern Aleppo and fighting also raged in the early evening, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said.

Other attacks focused on southern parts of the city towards the regime-controlled suburb of Ramussa. "It will be a long and difficult battle," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

"The army is supported by a large number of Iranians and fighters from Hezbollah, not to mention the Russian planes," he said.

Forces from Lebanon's Shiite group have been fighting alongside Assad's men in Syria for years, and Russia at the end of September last year began a campaign of air strikes in support of loyalist fighters.

In Aleppo city itself, regime forces bombarded rebel-held districts Sunday despite the announcement by Damascus and Moscow of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians and rebels ready to surrender to leave. On Saturday, government media reported that dozens of civilians and rebels had left besieged eastern Aleppo through humanitarian corridors, but residents there and rebels dismissed the claims as "lies".

It remains to be seen if the US - which has been trying to cobble a new deal with Russia over Syrian involvement - will provide support to the jihadist al-Nusra forces, pardon the Levantine Conquest Front, as they scramble to prevent the biggest upset so far in the Syrian conflict. Because should Assad retake Aleppo, the face of the Syrian war would change drastically, giving government forces not only a major territorial advantage, but also most of the momentum, while sending rebels reeling, and forcing ISIS to expand its offshore operations as it continues to lose ground, and influence, in Syria.