In a surprise offensive, combined Islamist rebel forces of the Jaish al-Fateh coalition remarkably captured the town of al-Eis and its adjacent hill in a two-wave assault yesterday; this high point holds huge strategic significance as it is the single tallest spot in all of southern Aleppo.
Prior to the loss of al-Eis, government troops of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and National Defence Forces (NDF) were able to obstruct the rebel-held M5-Highway through fire control at the top of Al-Eis while literally eyeing the province of Idlib in the horizon.
Nevertheless, close to 100 rebel militants have died during the capture of Al-Eis.
As some Al-Masdar readers might recall, southern Aleppo did witness extremely bloody clashes not long ago. However, the actual frontline in this area has been completely static since late December as both sides seemed more than happy to settle for a temporal stalemate.
Remarkably, Al-Eis and the entire region was actually rebel-held up until late 2015. At that point in time, dozens of villages and towns in the area fell to pro-government troops due to an offensive which was spearheaded by the Iranian Major General, Qassem Soleimani. His advances, on behalf of the Syrian military, can be seen in this map timeline.
Meanwhile, rebels also launched a simultaneous offensive yesterday in the province of Latakia which effectively had them capture two key points. Thereby, Syrian rebels have now formally rejected the Geneva peace deal, not only on the battlefield, but also at the negotiating table.
By capturing Al-Eis, rebels have now reversed the military situation and are able to monitor positions of the Syrian Arab Army on the southern outskirts of Aleppo city. With the Russian Airforce idle for unspecified reasons, the momentum and initiative now seems to favor the Islamists in the countryside of Aleppo.