Aleppo capture 'only matter of time': Syrian opposition

AFP , Monday 8 Aug 2016

Aleppo capture
(Photo: Reuters) Residents inspect damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in Anadan city, about 10 kilometers away from the towns of Nubul and Zahraa, Northern Aleppo countryside, Syria February 3, 2016.

It is only a matter of time before rebels capture all of Aleppo, the head of Syria's main opposition coalition said Monday as fighters launched an offensive to take the divided second city in its entirety.

Syrian National Coalition chief Anas al-Abdeh, in an interview with AFP, also praised a new-found unity among opposition factions that has seen the Fateh al-Sham Front -- which used to have ties with Al-Qaeda -- join forces with other rebels in the battle for Aleppo.

Over the weekend, opposition fighters succeeded in ending a three-week government siege of Aleppo's rebel-held east -- a major blow to the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

"I think this possibly is one of the most important developments of the Syrian revolution in the last five and a half years," Abdeh said in an interview in Istanbul, where the National Coalition is based.

"I think it will pave the way for a proper political transition, something the international community is not taking sufficiently seriously."

Aleppo, once Syria's economic hub and one of the oldest cities in the Middle East, has been roughly divided between government forces in the west and rebel groups in the east since fighting there first broke out in 2012.

Asked if the rebels could now take all of Aleppo in what would be the biggest blow to Assad of the entire war, Abdeh said: "I think it is just a matter of time. It will happen."

He added: "We see very clearly the regime forces are not able to resist."

Abdeh said rebel forces had moved from a position of defence to attacking not just Syrian regime forces but their allies in Aleppo who he said included Iranian forces, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias.

"We are trying our best to push all these foreigners out of our land so our people live in peace and tranquility," said Abdeh.

He praised a new "political and military unity" among the rebels, saying this was "a key factor" behind the success of the opposition in Aleppo.

"I think almost all the armed groups participated... and for the first time they showed a very professional level of coordination and work."

A major role in the fight for Aleppo has been played by the Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after breaking off ties with Al-Qaeda late last month.

Abdeh defended the involvement of Fateh al-Sham but warned against focusing all attention on their participation due to their past links with Al-Qaeda.

"The good news is that all the groups participating do not have any links with terror organisations" such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State group, he said.

"Detaching itself from Al-Qaeda... is one step in the right direction but we need more decisive steps in aligning themselves with the Syrian revolution."

He said Fateh Al-Sham were "playing a role like all other armed groups" in the fight for Aleppo.

"We need to be careful about over-focusing on them," he said, adding that Fateh al-Sham "maybe amount to 10 percent of the fighting force".

"The others are working in silence and we should give them credit for that," Abdeh told AFP.

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