PHOTO: Rebel fighters inside the artillery base, southwest of Aleppo, on Friday
UPDATE 1945 GMT: The Free Syrian Army and Fateh Halab operations room have issued a joint statement telling the people of Aleppo that they will be safe and protected in homes, mosques and churches.
The statement said that regime fighters should disarm and assured them of security if they did so.
UPDATE 1900 GMT: The Free Syrian Army says rebels have now taken the cement factory — which had been a significant position for the Syrian military — and fertilizer plant near the town of Ramouseh.
The rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah have claimed the capture from the regime artillery base of 20 tanks, seven BMP armored vehicles, 10 large cannons, and four ammunition and weapons warehouses.
Celebrations in a opposition-held district in eastern Aleppo city:
UPDATE 1400 GMT: Pro-opposition activists say rebels have now broken the pro-Assad siege of opposition areas of Aleppo city.
Rebels advancing on the southwestern Aleppo front, having taken the regime’s artillery base, have now linked up with other units who have been fighting in western Aleppo city.
BREAKING. The siege of E. #Aleppo is now over.
Rebels from outside met with those inside the city.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) August 6, 2016
While achieving the symbolic victory, rebels will now have to secure the corridor, ensuring safe passage of personnel and supplies.
Rebels are now also expected to pursue the extension of their areas of control along the southern ring road, putting further pressure on pro-Assad forces and threatening to cut them off.
UPDATE 1315 GMT: If they consolidate control of the artillery base — and possibly the air force technical college — what will be the next moves for the rebels?
See map of area
They are likely to try and extend their area of control along the nearby ring road, advancing both to the west and the east. Doing so, they can cut off a large pro-Assad force in a cement factory, having already taken the quarries.
The objective is to establish a corridor along the ring road, taking the last regime-held ground between the rebel forces in the artillery and in and near the town of Ramouseh. They can then attack along the southwestern front, with the al-Assad Military Academy a likely target.
Pro-rebel accounts are claiming success inside Ramouseh, including control of the garages on the main roundabout (see map).
@QalaatAlMudiq Jaish Al-Fateh is now in full control of 1st defensive line inside Ramoussah.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) August 6, 2016
Claimed footage of rebels inside Ramouseh:
Video from inside Ramousah with regime soldiers killed pic.twitter.com/Cl7Dlo1x4d
— Abu Summiyah الخالدي (@abu_summiyah) 6 August 2016
The rebels on the front are now only about a mile from breaking the pro-Assad siege on Aleppo city, where other rebel factions may launch their own attacks on regime positions.
However, the faction Ahrar al-Sham says that rebels are pressing attacks, capturing part of the air force technical college near the base.
UPDATE 0930 GMT: Pro-regime Al-Masdar News says rebels have completed the capture of the artillery base southwest of Aleppo city.
Al-Masdar said the Jaish al-Fateh rebel bloc took control at 4 a.m. Saturday. A regime “military source” said the last line of defense collapsed, despite intensive Russian bombing, after rebel attacks that included several venicle-borne suicide bombs.
The site also acknowledged the rebel seizure of large quantities of ammunition from the base, one of the major suppliers to pro-Assad forces across the country.
Rebel outlets said fighting continued until later in the morning, with pro-Assad forces holding out in pockets in northern parts of the base.
The jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) claim that 150 pro-Assad troops, including Hezbollah fighters, were killed in the battles.
Syrian State news agency SANA now says “thousands of terrorists, most of them mercenaries, attacked…with car bombs” overnight. However, it maintained that the Syrian army and air force “inflicted heavy losses on the Takfiri terrorist groups”.
Footage of the fighting, in a rebel video celebrating the victory:
Inside the base:
Updated map of the frontlines in southwest Aleppo:
Credit: Artur Rosinski of NewsMap
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Rebels are trying to take control of a key artillery base, in the most important battle of their week-long offensive to turn the course of the fight for Syria’s largest city Aleppo.
The rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah moved into the base, southwest of Aleppo, on Friday after days of shelling and infiltration by fighters, dressed as Syrian army troops.
Friday’s attacks began with a vehicle-borne suicide bomb, enabled by the infiltrating rebels. The assault soon claimed most of the base, including the officers building, two faculty buildings and an ammunition storage area.
With the Syrian military retreating to positions in the north and northeast of the base, intense Russian airstrikes prevented a collapse of the position. Iranian units and Hezbollah urgently moved troops from other fronts to take over the ground defenses.
Pro-Assad activists on social media carried messages from contacts in the Syrian military:
Aleppo triumphing. Our heroes…have repelled the most fierce of attacks….We destroyed their armors and communications equipment. We also disabled a tank. Their corpses are in the hundreds.
Rebels briefly pulled back under the Russian bombing, but soon re-engaged as fighting continued overnight. Two more vehicle suicide bombs were used against regime positions in the northern part of the base.
Syrian Military Collapse?
The artillery base, about 2 km (1.25 miles) from Aleppo city, is the regime’s third-largest in the country. If rebels capture it, they will be close to breaking the siege of opposition areas of Aleppo, imposed last month by pro-Assad forces who effectively cut the last route to the north.
Rebels could also separate the pro-Assad units from each other, hindering movement of men and supplies and threatening their own siege of regime positions in western Aleppo city.
Jaish al-Fatah has already imposed fire control over the southern ring road near Ramouseh, forcing regime convoys to take a long route around Aleppo to reach airports and bases to the east of the city.
Even if the pro-Assad forces can hold out in the base, the Syrian military is likely to be weakened by the assault. The base is one of the largest providers of ammunition to units throughout the country. Rebels seized some of the stocks on Friday, and another depot was destroyed by Russian bombing.
Even more importantly, the Syrian Army and National Defense Forces militia — many of whom reportedly fled the base on Friday — may no longer be a significant presence in the area. Instead, the Assad regime will rely on Iranian and Hezbollah forces, already prominent elsewhere on the frontlines near Aleppo, for the base’s survival.
Claimed photo of pro-Assad troops inside the base:
However, Russia’s English-language outlets are making no reference to the battle.
Another Pro-Assad Airstrike on Aleppo Hospital
The M2 hospital in opposition-held eastern Aleppo city has been hit yet again by a Russian-regime airstrike.
— Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) August 6, 2016
It is the fourth time in recent weeks that the hospital, supported by the Syrian American Medical Society, has been attacked.
Russian and regime warplanes have been systematically attacking medical facilities in northwest Syria, stepping up the raids since April.
Opposition-held districts of Aleppo city have only three fully-functioning hospitals, and there are areas of Aleppo Province with no fully-operational facility.