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.
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Limited supplies have long vexed opposition fighters in Syria, who are short on everything from bullets to bread. The group is able to get some supplies through donations or purchases, but the vast majority of the FSA’s equipment comes from what they’re able to capture from government forces.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Battle for the heart of Syria: inside Aleppo
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The opposition fighters say that according to their intelligence sources, the school offers an arsenal of thousands of rifles and ammunition, along with two working tanks.
“The key to our advance has been captured ammunition. The more we can capture, the more we can advance,” says Abu Saleh, deputy commander of the FSA’s Dar al Shaba brigade.
Plagued by defections
Opposition groups already have control of several roads leading to the Turkish border. Although the capture of the infantry school means gaining control of the most direct route to the border and will make it more difficult for the Syrian government to cut off access to Turkey, it’s unlikely to be a game changer for rebels who can already move freely between the border and Aleppo.
Aside from weapons, the infantry school will also offer a boost to the FSA rank and file, providing them with newly defected soldiers. Already, more than 100 have managed to defect during the course of the siege and rebels say more are expected once they have complete control of the school. The regime forces often kill soldiers as they try to defect, leaving many feeling trapped.
“We could have invaded it from the first day, but we wanted to give soldiers a chance to defect first,” Abu Morad, an FSA fighter. “We have spies inside the military school who will tell us who wanted to defect but couldn’t during the siege.”
In the coming weeks, opposition forces are likely to target a small military airfield on the outskirts of the northern area they now control and an artillery base on the southern edge.
Though the string of recent gains has spread optimism through the ranks of the opposition, the group’s leaders say they must still focus on gaining control of the rest of Aleppo before they shift their gaze elsewhere.
The battle for the capital city, where there has already been sustained fighting, is likely to intensify if and when rebels are able to capture the area between Damascus and Aleppo, allowing them to send reinforcements to the FSA units fighting there.
"Damascus will be the main fight because that’s where everything is – government offices, embassies, everything – so this will be the most important," says Homsi.
Opposition fighters say they are also expecting heavy fighting in northwestern Syria's Latakia Province, Assad's homeland and where some analysts say he may eventually retreat if rebels continue making gains. Already, there are reports of fighting in at least 12 of Syria's 14 provinces.
IN PICTURES - Battle for the heart of Syria: inside Aleppo