Syrian opposition forces say they are on brink of major victory in Aleppo
If Syrian rebels succeed in breaching an infantry school in Aleppo, they will gain some strategically critical pieces of territory, a windfall of supplies, and possibly a slew of regime defectors.
In Pictures Battle for the heart of Syria: inside Aleppo
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For more than three weeks now, opposition forces have besieged an infantry school in northern Aleppo that has in excess of 1,000 government forces inside. In recent days, they managed to breach the school and now say it is days away from falling.
“It’s the only spot in northern Aleppo that is not free. Once we have that all of northern Aleppo will be free,” says Haj Omar, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Bab al Salaam Battalion.
The fall of the school will be a significant stride forward for rebels, allowing them access to a more direct route to the Turkish border and capturing supplies critical for continuing their advance against President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Though pockets of government troops remain in the area, since late this summer the Syrian opposition has controlled a bloc of territory in northern Syria's Aleppo province roughly the size of Rhode Island, creating de facto courts, government councils, and police to administer the territory. The area, referred to by many locals as “Free Syria,” remains susceptible to airplane and artillery attacks, but those too have been decreasing in recent months.
Among the biggest gains that would come from capturing the infantry school, which is located just north of the city of Aleppo, is the Syrian opposition’s ability to increase pressure on the remaining fronts in the city.
“Aleppo is a very big front line. If we take the school it means that our backs will be safe and we can bring more troops here to finish the fight in Aleppo,” says Abu Fadi al Homsi, a senior commander for the FSA’s Abu Bakar Battalion.
Mr. Homsi estimates that the FSA has committed at least 2,000 fighters to besieging the school, which can be moved elsewhere once it falls into their hands.
Between 60 and 70 percent of the city is already under opposition control, say FSA leaders. Rebel forces have cut off the government’s supply routes to the north and now Assad’s forces can only resupply by air. But the main airport in Aleppo is under siege by the FSA, which says it will soon begin shooting down any plane that tries to land at the airport.