ALEPPO – Syrian troops repelled a rebel advance near Aleppo on Monday, forcing opposition forces to retreat from positions they seized a day earlier as heavy fighting continued in the country’s largest city.
The rebel assault on Sunday targeted army positions at a cement factory southwest of Aleppo. But opposition activists and militant websites said Monday that the insurgents retreated following a massive government counterattack.
Russia has been launching airstrikes in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces for nearly a year, and Syrian and Russian warplanes have stepped up their raids in recent days in Aleppo and the rebel-held Idlib province nearby.
Meanwhile, Russia and the United States are close to starting joint military action against militants in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the RIA news agency on Monday cited Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.
“We are now in a very active phase of negotiations with our American colleagues,” Shoigu was cited as saying.
“We are moving step by step closer to a plan – and I’m only talking about Aleppo here – that would really allow us to start fighting together to bring peace so that people can return to their homes in this troubled land.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained on Monday that Syrian militants had used temporary ceasefires in fighting in and around Aleppo to regroup and rearm.
Lavrov, speaking at a news conference in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said he realized that brief daily ceasefires in place now to allow aid to enter and civilians to leave were not sufficient.
But he said it was difficult to make the ceasefires longer for the moment because of the risk of militants using them to regroup and rearm, something he said they had done in the past.
The battle for Aleppo is “one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times,” Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said on Monday.
“No one and nowhere is safe. Shellfire is constant, with houses, schools and hospitals all in the line of fire. People live in a state of fear. Children have been traumatized. The scale of the suffering is immense,” Maurer said in a statement.
The ICRC reiterated its call on all warring parties to allow humanitarian agencies to deliver supplies to civilians in desperate need of food and clean water across Aleppo.
The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, said on Friday they had seized full control of Manbij near the Turkish border, in a significant strategic blow to ISIS.
The operation, in which US special forces played a significant role, marks the most ambitious advance by a group allied to Washington in Syria since the United States launched its military campaign against ISIS two years ago.
US officials have said once the Manbij operation is completed, it would create the conditions to move on the militant group’s de facto capital of Raqqa.
Late on Sunday, ISIS claimed a suicide bombing on a bus in Syria near the Atmeh border crossing with Turkey that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said killed at least 32 people.
The bus was carrying fighters from foreign-backed rebel factions, local rebel sources said.
ISIS militant claimed responsibility for the attack in an online statement on Sunday, saying the blast killed 50 fighters from the Failaq al-Sham and the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement groups.
The statement said the rebels were from US-backed groups who were travelling to fight ISIS in northern Aleppo province.
Pictures circulating on social media showed the burnt-out remains of a bus and medics treating wounded people.
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