Aleppo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - An alliance of rebel forces, led by Islamist groups, has launched a major offensive against government troops in Aleppo, to take complete control of the second largest city of Syria.
The news was reported by local sources to the London Based Syrian Human Rights Observatory of (Ondus). According to activists, the rebels launched "hundreds of rockets and missiles" in the areas under the control of forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad.
Preliminary reports, still awaiting official confirmation, speak of at least four civilian deaths and more than 70 injured. Five militants rebels were killed in gun battles with government forces in the west of Aleppo, a city in the north of enormous historical and strategic significance. Since 2012 the city has been divided into two sectors with government forces in the west and rebel militias who control the eastern sector.
According to the Observatory the attack is being spearheaded by an allience of militia movements including the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated to Al Qaeda and the jihadists of Ahrar al Sham. So far there is no confirmation of the Islamic State militias’ involvement in the offensive.
In an official statement the rebel groups claim that the goal is to "liberate the city of Aleppo" and ensure that sharia is enforced.
The loss of Aleppo would be a terrible blow to the Syrian government and the president, who would see its area of influence limited as well as losing control from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast.
More than 3.2 million people have fled Syria with other 7.6 million internally displaced since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. At least 230,000 people have died in the fighting, many of them civilians, especially in 2014.
In this context of war and terror, the members of the Islamic State have distinguished themselves for their brutality and violence. The IS jihadists have executed more than 3 thousand people in the year since the birth of the "Caliphate" in Iraq and Syria, of which 1800 were civilians and at least 74 children.