DAMASCUS - Syrian troops prepared on Thursday to launch an offensive on rebel-held districts across the northern city of Aleppo, a security source told AFP.
“The special forces were deployed on Wednesday and Thursday on the edges of the city, and more troops have arrived to take part in a generalised counter-offensive on Friday or Saturday,” a source close to the Syrian security apparatus said.
The source said rebel fighters had brought in their own reinforcements, estimating between 1,500 and 2,000 opposition fighters had arrived from outside Syria’s largest city to reinforce some 2,000 already fighting in Aleppo.
“They are mainly present in the southern and eastern suburbs of the city, mainly Salaheddin and nearby districts,” he said.
The airport is currently cut off from the city, as four of the five roads leading to it are under rebel control, he added.
Rebels also said a regime assault appeared imminent. “The army’s reinforcements have arrived in Aleppo,” Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, told AFP via Skype.
“We expect a major offensive at any time, specifically on areas across the southern belt, from east to west.”
Okaidi added on Thursday that some 100 army tanks — as well as a large number of military vehicles — had arrived in Aleppo.
“There’s no way to compare our capacity to theirs. They have tanks, we have medium and light weapons. But we believe in our struggle; they are fighting for nothing.”
On Tuesday night, Okaidi said “a large number” of troops was being redeployed from northwestern Idlib to Aleppo, “which is strategically more important for the regime.”
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the troop reinforcements were arriving, saying they had been ambushed by rebels en route.
“Military reinforcements have arrived in the outskirts of Aleppo,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“During the night, an army convoy of tanks, armoured and transport vehicles going from the Nairab military camp in Idlib was attacked by rebels in Saraqeb in the same province,” he said, adding that the assault was followed by clashes.
Syrian newspaper Al-Watan, which is close to the regime, led Thursday with the headline: “Aleppo, the mother of all battles.”