|Salam Hindawi reporting & Safwat el-Zayyat analyzing|
“Syrian army to storm Aleppo in next to no time” was the title of my post last Tuesday.
I am copying and pasting that May 28 post’s two opening paragraphs for the one today. Here goes:
As fierce fighting rages around the Syrian capital Damascus and the strategic border town of Qusayr, Syrian troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are preparing to storm Aleppo in next to no time.
Aleppo, Syria's largest city of three million and a former commercial center, is now split between rebel and government control.
Ms Salam Hindawi, reporting for Aljazeera from Aleppo city last night, says a mass exodus from Aleppo governorate’s rural areas followed news yesterday that between 3,000 and 5,000 of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops and Hezbollah fighters were positioned in the northern rural sector, where they were torching fields and preparing to blitz the city.
Nasser Shadid, another Aljazeera reporter in the area, said at least nine people were killed and many others injured Sunday by a Scud missile on the Kfar Hamra area of Aleppo.
Loveday Morris, reporting for the Washington Post from Beirut, quotes an unnamed senior Hezbollah commander as saying there were about 2,000 Hezbollah fighters in Aleppo province, largely stationed in Shiite towns north of the city.
She writes in part:
The Aleppo battle has started on a very small scale; we’ve only just entered the game,” said the Hezbollah commander in an interview in Beirut on Saturday while on leave from fighting in Qusayr, where he oversees five units. “We are going to go after strongholds where they think they are safe. They are going to fall like dominoes.”
(…) Louay al-Mekdad, political and media coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, said Hezbollah militants had gathered at a military academy in Aleppo’s western district of Hamdaniyeh on Sunday. He put the number of the Shiite movement’s soldiers in the area at 4,000, quoting rebel intelligence.
“We think they are going to engage inside Aleppo and the province,” he said.
In what appeared to be preparation for that, pro-government forces began a push to secure supply lines to the city on Sunday, activists said.
(…) The Hezbollah commander boasted about gains in Qusayr, saying that when he left the battlefield for leave a week ago, the movement controlled 70 percent of the city at the cost of 72 of its men. He said 3,000 Hezbollah fighters are in the town, among “no more than 10,000” in the whole of Syria.
(…) In a sign that Hezbollah may be under more strain than expected, the commander said that seven-days-on, seven-days-off military rotations have been changed to 20 days on before a weeklong leave.
Egyptian military and strategy expert Safwat el-Zayyat is not impressed by the buildup of regime and Hezbollah forces in Aleppo province or anywhere else.
He does not think the Damascus government is making military advances or territorial gains so far.
Zayyat told Aljazeera TV last night:
Much as government troops and Hezbollah fighters are gathering in the northern sector (of Aleppo province), the rebels are confidently moving to the center of Qusayr town – as if to say that Qusayr is Aleppo or any other spot in Syria.
This shows the regime is totally unable to cut off the rebels’ supply routes.
Hundreds of rebels were able to move freely from the north to the south of the country without being challenged by regime forces either from the air or on the ground.
The floods of rebels streaming to Qusayr were not even ambushed once because the roads are wide open.
Do you think the regime, which failed to regain control of Jobar or Qaboun or Barza, has enough troops to try and control the road between Aleppo and A’zaz?
Hezbollah’s military support can’t change much. You need between 400,000 and 500,000 troops to control the whole of Syria and the regime has no more than 60,000 left. Had it had more men, it would not have asked Iran to order Hezbollah’s intervention to try and recapture Qusayr.
By massing troops in the Aleppo area, the regime is simply trying to divert rebels in the north from joining the battles in Hama, Homs and Qusayr.