Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop a damaged tank near Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
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When rebel fighters launched a last desperate attempt to break the siege of Aleppo in October, they were beaten back – not by the Syrian army but by the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah fighting on its behalf, a senior official in the pro-government alliance said. In the buildup to the final battle for Syria's second city, scores of fighters from a single Iraqi Shiite militia were killed in just two days of combat this summer, said a commander of another group fighting for President Bashar Assad.Even in the last hours of fighting in Aleppo, allied Iraqi militia was at the vanguard. Rebel sources say that among fighters taken prisoner by insurgents in the last months of Assad's campaign to retake Aleppo, there was not a single Syrian soldier.Among these militias, which fought in and around Aleppo alongside the Tiger Force, an elite Syrian army unit lavishly backed by Russia, was the Ansar Allah al-Awfiya group.The rebels inflicted big losses on the militia's fighters by hitting them with a barrage of guided anti-tank missiles as they retreated in an area outside Aleppo, according to the militia commander, also an Iraqi. The siege continued unbroken, and proved Assad's effective weapon in the campaign for Aleppo.
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