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Syrian rebels put choke hold on government supply lines

The Free Syrian Army has captured several critical areas from the government this week, curtailing delivery of supplies to those they are battling for control of Aleppo.

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“There’s progress, but we don’t want to go inside the airport and hold it because there is a lot of open ground. We’re just trying to keep it under siege. If we take it, the regime will destroy it and we don’t want to destroy our infrastructure.” says Abu Hamdu, deputy commander of Al Khatab, an FSA unit now fighting at the airport.

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Targeting the airport

Still, Mr. Hamdu says that the FSA is now in a position where it can begin shooting down supply planes landing at the airport. The group has long bemoaned its lack of anti-aircraft weapons, but it does possess heavy caliber machine guns that can be effectively used against slow moving cargo planes as they take off and land, if not fighter jets.

Until now, the group has hesitated to shoot at planes because it says the Army has been using civilian passenger planes to deliver supplies and the group does not want to inadvertently shoot down a plane full of civilians. They’ve now started to warn all civilians to avoid the airport at all costs. 

“We don’t know when, but soon we will start targeting everything that moves inside the airport,” says Hamdu.

The FSA has been outgunned for the entirety of the conflict, depending predominantly on weapons and supplies either captured from regime forces or brought over by defectors. Without a clearly defined leadership structure or organization, the international community remains hesitant to arm the group.

Cutting off supply lines for the Assad Army could level the playing field for rebels here, but the FSA supply shortages create a number of problems for the group as it captures new ground.

Aside from offering a strategic military boost, the capture of Kindi hospital has given the FSA access to the largest hospital in the province. Doctors now working to restore the facility say they’ve found critical medical equipment and supplies that are in dire need here.

Situated on top a hill, however, the hospital remains an easy target for government artillery and jets that the FSA has no defense against. Within 48 hours of taking the hospital, it was attacked by jets. 

“They attacked the hospital, but we can’t do anything. We need the hospital. We need the equipment,” says Abu Mohammad, a pharmacist who now works at a central hospital in Aleppo. 

The threat of attack poses a serious concern for doctors trying to restore the hospital to working order. Already, most hospitals in Aleppo do not allow patients to stay after their initial treatment for fear that it could make them the victim of shelling or aerial bombing. Doctors in Aleppo, who are working in hospitals with severely depleted resources, say that Kindi hospital offers needed equipment and surgical facilities that make it worth the risk of working there.

There are still only about a dozen doctors working in Aleppo, leaving no extra personnel to staff the hospital, which is located about 30 minutes from the center of the city.

“We need more doctors, but not a lot of doctors want to come here because it’s dangerous,” says Baraa Saleh, a Syrian medical student studying in Belgium who returned to volunteer as a doctor for about a month in Aleppo. “When I return to Belgium, I will talk to everyone to see if they can help. The need is more than we imagined or realized.”


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