Syria: FSA begins final push to free Aleppo

Follow clayclai on Twitter

There were two major explosions at Aleppo University that killed 87 people, including many students, yesterday. The Assad regime blamed "terrorists" but many observers on the ground said that the explosions were caused by rockets that came from government planes.

Aleppo University has become a symbol of resistance in a city that has been locked in a stalemate between opposition fighters and Assad forces for many months now.

The Free Syrian Army launched a campaign to take the city on the last day of August. The Assad regime vowed to make quick work of them. Now the FSA controls most of the city but the Assad regime still controls the skies.

With that control he has been able to deliver "Death from Above" to every part of the city, attacking bread lines 24 times, and he has been able to turn what is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world into a pile of rubble. Put it another way:

Assad has been pounding cities that go back to the stone age, back to the stone age.

Assad's area of control in Aleppo has been constantly shrinking and yesterday the Russians announced the closure of their consulate in Aleppo, a sure sign that change is in the air.

Today the opposition forces have announced the start of a final push that they say will completely liberate Aleppo.

Below the fold is some more info on this:

The Independent reported on the attack on Aleppo University:

Up to 83 people killed as Syrian students taking exams are caught in blasts

While many students had stopped going in for classes, they were sitting exams at the time
Loveday Morris | Beirut | 15 January 2013
Twin explosions struck a university campus in Aleppo today as students gathered for mid-term exams, killing as many as 83 people in one of the bloodiest single incidents in the struggle for control of Syria's biggest city.

The blasts – the cause of which remains unclear – came just minutes apart this afternoon. Both sides traded blame, with activists saying the destruction had been caused by a regime airstrike and Syrian state television claiming "terrorists" had fired rockets at the campus.

The frontage of the university's agriculture building was ripped off by the explosions, while tangled, smoking car wrecks lay smouldering in the rubble-strewn street. Footage from the scene showed the moment the second explosion hit, with students screaming and fleeing in panic.

Aleppo has been convulsed by violence since the summer, when rebels launched an offensive to seize the city – once Syria's commercial capital – hoping to gain a foothold in the north. In recent months the fighting has reached a stalemate, but airstrikes continue to terrorise citizens while grinding street battles show no sign of let-up.

Activists on the ground and the London-based Syrian Obser- vatory for Human Rights said the death toll in the explosions had climbed to 83, while Mohammed Wahid Akkad, the governor of Aleppo, said 82 had died and at least 160 were injured. More...

Agence France-Presse has these futher details:

Each side blamed the other for two explosions on Tuesday at Aleppo University which killed at least 87 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rebels and some people who said they witnessed the blasts said a regime warplane fired rockets at the university, which some said had been a symbol of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

"I saw the plane twice fire rockets at the university. I heard two explosions," a 25-year-old minibus driver who crosses the city daily and who gave his name as Abu Mohammed told AFP.

"People started running, they tried to help, putting injured people in small trucks. There were maybe 20 bodies on the ground, many of them with their limbs blown off."

But the government in Damascus said the massacre was caused by "terrorists", its term for the rebels.

NPR has this report on life in Aleppo:

As Syrian Rebels Reopen Bakeries, Bread Crisis Starts To Ease

by Kelly McEvers
January 16, 2013 6:04 PM

In Syria, the staple of most meals is a thin, round, flat bread that we would probably call pita.

Back in November, as fierce fighting raged across Syria, people started to run out of this bread. Government forces were attacking bakeries in rebel-held areas and cutting off electricity so mills couldn't grind flour. By late last year, Syrians were desperate.

But now, the crisis has been somewhat alleviated — by Aleppo's transitional revolutionary council, a group the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist organization. It's basically a group of civilian leaders trying to solve Aleppo's problems.

Raafat al Rifai is a journalist, but he's also on the council. He has taken up residence in an abandoned bank on the outskirts of the city. There's no electricity. It's dark and cold. All he has are cigarettes.

Pretty soon after we sit down, some guys come to the door. They tell Raafat they need bread.

There are four main grain compounds in Aleppo province, Raafat tells me. These compounds grind grain into flour and store the flour in silos. Back in November, they all shut down.

Rebel fighters, known as the Free Syrian Army, or FSA, along with civilian leaders, went and convinced the two of compounds to re-open, Raafat says. With aid money they'd collected, the council helped the compounds get fuel for generators. And they offered protection. More...

Agence France-Presse is reporting:

Syria rebels planning to break Aleppo deadlock

by Marc Burleigh
01/17/2013 11:13 AM

ALEPPO, Syria - Rebels trying to break a months-long deadlock in their battle for Syria's second city Aleppo say they are cutting supply routes ahead of simultaneous assaults on regime bases.

"The FSA (the rebel Free Syrian Army) is making new steps to liberate the city,"
Hajji Anadan, the non-military chief of the Al-Tawheed Brigade headquartered in Aleppo, told AFP in an interview on Wednesday, January 16.

"We are focusing on military areas around Aleppo, the airports and the bases. And, thanks to God, we are surrounding them and step by step we will liberate them."

The rebels are fighting regime troops at a base defending Aleppo's international airport, a strategic facility in the southeast of the city.

"Base 80 is surrounded by the FSA. We are planning a big attack on that and on other bases, coordinated and simultaneous attacks," Anadan said, without giving details.

"The FSA is surrounding the city and is moving on the airports. It is cutting off the routes so the army can't get supplies or munitions," he said.

"Nobody is bringing support for the army."

The main city in Syria's north, Aleppo had around five million residents before the civil war upended their lives in July. Many were forced to flee their homes as vicious fighting erupted and the rebels grabbed eastern districts.

For more than three months now, neither side has been able to get the upper hand, and the city has become divided, with abandoned neighbourhoods separating the warring sides and checkpoints screening vehicles. More...

Aleppo university when (2nd?) explosion occurs

Click here for a list of my other Daily Kos dairies on Syria