Middle East

Rebels make significant gains in northern territories

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government forces patrol the damaged area of the al-Arqoub district in Aleppo, Syria, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/SANA)

ATAREB, Syria: Syria’s rebels have captured hundreds of kilometers of territory in the country’s north in the past six months, an AFP correspondent who visited the area in March reported Monday. The journalist, who was in the northwestern province of Idlib in March, verified that the rebel Free Syrian Army had gained significant ground in the period since.

It is now possible to travel hundreds of kilometers in areas controlled by the FSA, only making infrequent detours to avoid nearby garrisons still in the hands of the regular army.

The rebels refer to these as “liberated” areas.

According to the reporter, the rebels have captured many villages in Idlib and the northern province of Aleppo, and forced troops loyal to Damascus to retreat on many fronts.

Most crossroads are controlled by small contingents of rebels, sleeping in a tent, observing the traffic and intercepting cars with unknown passengers.

Atareb, a small town west of Aleppo whose buildings bear the scars of fierce battles, was taken by the FSA three months ago. In the town center, several charred carcasses of tanks remain.

Rebel leaders said their forces have encircled an important military base en route to Aleppo, which according to them is the last obstacle to Syria’s second city, where battles have raged for the past two months.

They claim to control all of the axes around the northern metropolis, and say that their only fear is aerial attacks.

On Sunday, a rebel commander told AFP that much of Syria’s territory is increasingly outside the control of the regular military, whose aerial superiority is keeping the regime afloat.

In some large towns, like Harim, the army does not budge from the center, because the rebels have laid mines on the surrounding roads.

Last week, the insurgents took control of a fourth border crossing with Turkey, Tal Abyad, in northern Syria. Their goal is to connect the regions they control to create what could become a “liberated zone” backed by Ankara.

Northwest and northeast Syria is predominantly Kurdish territory, where Kurdish militias took control after the regular army withdrew, with the two parties avoiding hostilities.

The FSA too has established a modus vivendi with the Kurdish forces, who display their neutrality by keeping out of the fight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 25, 2012, on page 8.




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