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Syrian Rebels Work To Get The Upper Hand In Aleppo

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
January 14, 2013

Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, has been at war now for some six months. It started when rebels opposed to Syria’s government stormed Aleppo and tried to take control. They failed to take it all, and since then many military and political analysts — and Syrians themselves — have called the offensive a failure. Now, however, rebels just might be gaining the upper hand.

In many ways, Aleppo is a tale of two cities: In the east, rebels control 60 percent; in the west, the remaining 40 percent of the city is for the government.

The line dividing these two areas is supposedly the front line in Aleppo’s war. But lately the front has gone cold, as people here say in Arabic.

You can still hear shots. But peering through a tiny little hole in a stone wall separating the two sides, this particular part of government-held Aleppo looks like a no man’s land — there’s a lot of trash, abandoned buildings, a mosque that looks like it’s been abandoned.

The shots are from a government sniper, posted on top of one of those abandoned buildings. Although there’s not much fighting here anymore, government soldiers sometimes try to pick off rebel fighters stationed here or civilians who cross from one side to another.

Marwa just crossed the front line. She and her sister sometimes make this perilous crossing twice a day. One day, a sniper almost killed her sister.

Marwa works on the government side but lives on the rebel side. She says life is almost normal on the government side — there’s more electricity and bread.

When asked whether she feels like she has a dual personality, she replies, yes, this is the reality.

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

In recent months, rebels have realized that fighting for inches along these front lines is no way to win a war. So while a small number of fighters hold the front, the rest have turned their attention to government air bases that ring the city.

Rebels believe if they can cut off the government’s ability to resupply its troops, Aleppo will fall.

Rebels have surrounded Mennagh airport on the outskirts of Aleppo, one of the three remaining key air bases in the area.

Rebels have been getting closer and closer to the base in recent weeks, says a fighter at a ruined house near the airport. But still, there are problems. He says his unit actually had to buy anti-aircraft weapons from another rebel unit.

And he says he has no idea if rebels who recently captured another major air base near here will come and help or just keep the weapons they seized for themselves and fight elsewhere.

Deserting Syrian army soldiers is one reason the government is losing control in Aleppo and in the rest of northern Syria.

One soldier who had been at the Mennagh airport until he deserted a few days ago says the government army fed him only once a day. He says that he waved a white flag at the rebels and made his escape at the first chance he got.

As well, the government is struggling against better trained and better equipped Islamist fighters, some of them from outside Syria, who are now leading the battles at these government bases.

Of course, many questions remain. For instance, if rebels do take Aleppo, then what? They say they’ll join other rebels who’re already are fighting to take Syria’s capital, Damascus. But they face a tough battle there.

And still, taking Aleppo could be a long way off.

As one Syrian civilian leader in the city said, if we use logic, it could happen in three months. If we don’t, it could be years. [Copyright 2013 National Public Radio]

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