Free Syrian Army fighters aim their weapons during heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels north of Aleppo.(Photo: Narciso Contreras, AP)
ALEPPO, Syria -- After months of fighting in the major city of Aleppo
and surrounding countryside, opposition fighters there say they are
close to forcing out the Syrian army from much of northern Syria.
fighters on Sunday captured the last military base in the northern
Aleppo province loyal to President Bashar Assad. The infantry base was
the second such base to be captured in the province in a week.
capture provides a significant boost of captured equipment, mainly
small arms and at least two tanks, members of the Syrian Free Army said.
key to our advance has been captured ammunition. The more we can
capture, the more we can advance," said Abu Saleh, deputy commander of
the opposition's Dar al Shaba Brigade.
Rebels said the capture
will also make it harder for Syrian army to re-supply its forces in
Aleppo. The Free Syrian Army, the rebel force of deserters and others,
estimated that Assad's forces control up to 40% of the city.
forces have struggled to get weaponry for the entire 21-month conflict,
relying predominately on what they can take from the Assad army.
rebels are continuing efforts to cut off supply lines to government
forces in the north and emboldened civilians are taking the most
ambitious steps yet to create a transitional government inside Syria.
rebels are showing recently in the past few weeks that they're capable
of taking defended regime positions. This is something they had a great
deal of difficulty doing in the past. That to me, is a substantial
change in the situation," said Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
All roads leading into
Aleppo are under Free Syrian Army control. Syrian government forces in
the area are forced to bring in their supplies by plane and use
helicopters to deliver it to many of their bases within the city.
forces are also besieging the airport and said they will begin using
heavy machine guns to try to shoot down supply planes. They worry,
however, that if they take control of the airport it could be difficult
to hold because it is surrounded by open ground susceptible to
"The airport is the most important part of the city
now. If we can control the airport we can cut their supplies and win the
war here," said Abu Tawfik, a senior commander of Liwa Tawheed, one of
the largest FSA units fighting in Aleppo.
During a break in the
fighting, several members from the FSA's Bab Al Salaam Battalion said
that they are noticeably better equipped following recent gains against
government forces that resulted in the capture of more supplies. Other
brigades said that is true, but the regime forces still have them
"In the summer, we would go on missions with only one
or even just a half a magazine of ammunition for our rifles. Now we have
four or five magazines," said Abu Morad, an FSA fighter in Aleppo.
working with the opposition are planning to take advantage of the gains
by creating a 224-person grand assembly to serve as the governing
legislative body for all of Aleppo province. The Transitional
Revolutionary Council, the group responsible for creating the assembly,
said it's impossible to hold elections given the conditions in Syria
now, so community members will pick their representatives in
Hakeem Halabi, co-leader of a committee
on the council, said the assembly will initially focus on helping
people with the essentials, such as electricity problems and food
The assembly will hold its first meeting within a month in nearby Gaziantep, Turkey.
White and Hakeem said that fighting continues in 12 of Syria's 14
provinces and in no other province have opposition forces managed to
take control as in Aleppo. They remain optimistic that more provinces
will fall to them.
"The longer we fight, the more experience we
get and the number of FSA and defected soldiers is increasing," said Haj
Omar, an FSA commander in Aleppo.