Syrian opposition fighters break Aleppo siege by controlling Al-Ramosa artillery base

A fighter of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, rides in an armoured vehicle in the 1070 Apartment Project area in southwestern Aleppo, Syria August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A fighter of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, rides in an armoured vehicle in the 1070 Apartment Project area in southwestern Aleppo, Syria August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

Syrian rebels say a coalition of armed anti-government groups, the Army of Conquest, has captured all of a strategically important military base in the northern city of Aleppo.

However, Syrian state television disputes the claim, saying that government forces pushed the rebel fighters back, killing hundreds of them in the process.

The opposition forces, who already control the countryside and areas southwest and east of Aleppo, insist they are still control of the base in the Ramosa quarter in southwestern Aleppo.

Saturday’s conflicting claims came a day after the Army of Conquest said they had stormed the major army artillery base, and were fighting to take the other military academies adjoining it.

“The Army of Conquest on Saturday took control of the armament school, where there is a large amount of ammunitions, and a large part of the artillery school” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said on Saturday.

The artillery base is almost 2km from the besieged opposition area.

It has a huge supply of ammunition and is used regularly to shell parts of the city held by opposition forces.

“There are two suicide bombers who have driven into regime posts inside the artillery base,” Abu al-Walid, a fighter with Ahrar al-Sham, told Reuters news agency on Friday, adding that there was fighting inside the base.

Hundreds of fighters clashed with government troops only a few hundred metres from each other in parts of the artillery base after breaking into government defences around the heavily fortified compound, the rebels said.

For its part, the Syrian army said the attack on the artillery base and two major military academies had been foiled, with hundreds of fighters killed and much of their armoured vehicles and tanks destroyed.

It said the assault was the biggest by rebels against government-held areas in the last few years.

“Today there was a large-scale attack by the terrorist armed groups and they used all types of weapons but we are fighting this attack and will defeat them,” Brigadier-General Deeb Bazi, the head of one of the military academies targeted, told Reuters.

Al Jazeera reported from Gaziantep, on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said the fighting in Aleppo is described by many as “the decisive battle for Syria”.

“The impression is that if the government manages to take over Aleppo, they will gain momentum and take away leverage from the rebels – there will no longer be an incentive to go on the negotiating table with the rebels,” he said.

“But the impression also is that if the rebels control Aleppo, they will still have leverage and a bargaining chip to get the Syrian government to the negotiating table.”

In a separate development, a coalition of Arab and Kurd fighters trying to oust fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Manbij took “almost complete control” of the key city south of the Turkish border on Saturday, according to the Observatory.

Backed by air strikes from the US-led coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had launched its offensive to retake Manbij on May 31.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces took control of Manbij on Saturday and are combing the city in search of the last remaining jihadists,” said the Observatory.

The town in Aleppo province had served as a key transit point along the supply route of ISIL, also known as ISIS, from the Turkish border to Raqqa, the de facto capital of its self-styled “caliphate”.

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