New refugee influx expected with regime, Shiite bloc's Aleppo offensive
by Mehmet Solmaz
ISTANBULOct 15, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Mehmet Solmaz
Oct 15, 2015 12:00 am
Forces loyal to the Syrian regime army and allied Iranian and Hezbollah forces are preparing for a ground offensive against insurgents in the Aleppo area backed by Russian airstrikes, two senior regional officials familiar with the plans said on Tuesday.
Analysts warn that over 2 million Syrians could flee their homes if Aleppo falls into the hands of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime or the ISIS. NATO member Turkey fears that the number of the already 2.2 million refugees in the country could almost double and lead hundreds of thousands to attempt to cross through Turkey to Europe.
Ankara has long argued that establishing safe and no-fly zones would help solve the Syrian crisis and that there would be fewer refugees fleeing their country.
The offensive would expand on a ground attack launched by the same alliance last week that is targeting the opposition in the province of Hama, further west. Thousands of Iranian troops recently arrived to take part in the ground offensives in support of the Syrian regime.
Control of Aleppo and the surrounding province is divided among the Syrian regime, a range of opposition groups fighting Assad and ISIS, which controls some rural areas near the city.
Several regime officials spoke to various media outlets. One said: "The decision to launch the battle of Aleppo has been taken. ... It is no longer hidden that thousands of Iranians are now in Syria and their role is fundamental." A general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hossein Hamedani, was killed in Aleppo while reportedly advising the Syrian army in their battle against opposition groups and ISIS.
The city of Aleppo was Syria's most populous city before the civil war began in 2011, after Assad cracked down on anti-government protests. The government controls western areas of the city and an array of opposition groups controls the east.
The opposition in Aleppo is deploying more men and weapons, including significant quantities of anti-tank missiles, to resist ground attacks by the regime and its allies, backed by Russian airstrikes.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group tracking the war, said a battle continued for control of the town of Kafr Nabuda in the province of Hama, which the Syrian army said it captured on Monday. At least 25 government fighters were killed, it said. A number of opposition groups backed by the West operating under the banner of the Free Syrian Army have deployed anti-tank missiles along a frontline stretching from Kafr Nabuda to the town of Maan some 30 kilometers to the east, said Fares al-Bayoush, a former Syrian army colonel who heads the Fursan al-Haq group.
The regime's first aim is reportedly to advance north toward the province of Idlib, nearly all of which was captured by the opposition this year. Hezbollah has redeployed its fighters in Syria to take part in the battle in the northwest, according to sources familiar with political and military developments in Syria. A Hezbollah officer was killed on Monday in Idlib, a Lebanese security source said. A senior Hezbollah commander, Hassan al-Haj, was also killed in the same area in recent