08/09/2016, 10.34
SYRIA
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Aleppo, hundreds of guerrillas gather for "the mother of all battles"

Fighting intensifies in the country's second city. Both fronts close ranks for the decisive battle. Russian fighter jets support Damascus army. For analysts and experts a victory in Aleppo (perhaps) decisive in conflict. UN diplomacy scrambles to organize new peace negotiations in late August.

Aleppo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The conflict between government forces and rebel militias in Aleppo is intensifying. Syria's second largest city is a symbol of the war in its fifth year, which has claimed more than 280 thousand peoples' lives and displaced millions more.

Currently hundreds of soldiers on both sides are gathering on the battlefield in an attempt to conquer the ancient commercial capital of the country and make a breakthrough - perhaps decisive - in the conflict.

The government leaders have released a video showing fighter jets bombing strategic targets in the south-west of Aleppo.

Earlier, the rebels had announced the breaking of the government army siege - in place for three weeks - in areas under their control. Claims strongly denied by Damascus, in a war that has also been characterized by the pervasive use of media and propaganda.

According to reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in the last hours at least 2 thousand of fighters loyal to the Syrian government and from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon (Hezbollah) have reached the city. Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the NGO, said that "both sides are massing troops in preparation for the great battle of Aleppo."

Yesterday six Russian bombers released a series of bombs on Islamic State positions (IS) to the north-east of Palmyra. Moscow's jets are also engaged in a series of operations near Aleppo.

On the rebel front ther eis a visible intensification in their war efforts. In a statement the anti-government movement Army of Conquest spoke of "the beginning of a new phase to free all Aleppo" and the intention to "double the number of fighters for the next battle." Hundreds of militiamen arrived in Aleppo from the province and neighboring Idlib.

Meanwhile, the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan Mistura continues diplomatic efforts in an attempt to bring together all parties involved in the conflict around the same negotiating table; the goal is to revive the peace process in Geneva with new negotiations from the end of August.

The city, the former economic and commercial heart of the country, is being subjected to renewed fighting with rebel forces committed to regaining parts of the town won from them by the government forces in recent days.

Even Pope Francis has appealed against this most recent escalation of violence. Speaking yesterday at the end of hisAngelus reflection he condemned “reports of civilian victims of war” emerging from the conflict zone.

He stated that it is "unacceptable" that "so many helpless people - including many children - have to pay the price of conflict, the price of closed hearts and the powerful's lack of will for peace”. 

Analysts and experts point out that the conquest of the city – which has now become the mother of all battles – may be decisive to the conflict. Half of Aleppo is in the hands of so-called rebel groups, actually composed for the most part by jihadists (Islamic State) and Islamic extremist movements such as the Nusra Front, the local offshoot of al Qaeda. Many of the weapons used by "the insurgents" have been provided by Western nations, Gulf countries and Turkey.

Thomas Pierret, a Syria expert at the University of Edinburgh, said that "whoever wins in Aleppo, perhaps will not mean the end of war." However, he adds, "this is an important battle, the outcome of which will determine the course of the conflict". If the rebels win, Syria "is destined to be divided" and the government will retain control of Damascus, Homs, the coast and the Golan Heights.

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