BEIRUT • Syrian regime forces and rebel factions sent hundreds of reinforcements to Aleppo yesterday as opposition fighters announced an all-out offensive to take the country's second city.
The battle for Syria's former economic powerhouse is intensifying after an opposition advance over the weekend broke through a three-week government siege of the city's rebel-held east, in a major setback to regime troops.
Rebel forces on Sunday announced a bid to capture all of Aleppo city, which, if successful, would mark the biggest opposition victory yet in Syria's five-year civil war. But forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are putting up a fierce fight and have begun pouring reinforcements into the city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 2,000 pro-regime fighters from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah had arrived in Aleppo since late Sunday. "Both sides are amassing their fighters in preparation for the great battle of Aleppo," said Mr Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the observatory.
Aleppo has been divided between government forces in the west and rebel groups in the east since fighting broke out in mid-2012. After years of stalemate, fighting for the city entered a new phase last month when government forces took control of the last supply road into rebel-held areas, leaving some 250,000 people in the eastern districts surrounded.
In a desperate bid to break the siege, a coalition of rebels and militants overran a series of buildings in a military academy on the southwestern edges of Aleppo on Saturday. They then pushed north-east to link up with rebel groups inside the city.
Emboldened by the victory, the fighters - largely grouped under the banner of the Army of Conquest - then set their sights on recapturing all of Aleppo city.
The rebel advance over the weekend cut off a key regime access route on the city's southern edges, which had been used to bring in supplies for the estimated 1.2 million residents of the western districts. Overnight, regime forces brought in trucks carrying food and fuel into those districts via a new route, the observatory said.