Yesterday afternoon, Syrian government troops – heavily aided by various Shiite paramilitaries – stormed and captured the village of Tall Jibin after launching a surprise offensive in northern Aleppo. Just a few hours later, the 4th Mechanized Division of the Syrian Arab Army launched another attack further south, thus seizing several farms in al-Mallah.
Since October of 2015, the Syrian Army has been heavily embattled with ISIS and Jaish al-Fateh in the eastern and southern countryside of Aleppo respectively. However, northern Aleppo has remained remarkably quiet over the past year as the frontline had previously settled for a stalemate. Nevertheless, today’s advance hints at the Syrian Government finally pushing to break a persistent Islamist siege on the predominately Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahraa which has lasted since the summer of 2012.
Just a few miles split Nubl & Zahraa from the government-held mainland in Aleppo; however, the area is heavily mined and littered with improvised traps placed by local Islamist rebels. The capture of Tall Jibin indicates that government troops are attempting to push around the mined area on the outskirts of Aleppo city as to outflank rebels and push towards the long-term besieged towns of Nubl and Zahraa. Meanwhile, especially Hezbollah fighters are highly involved in both the besieged Shia towns and the soldiers pushing towards this area.
If the Syrian Army was to carry out this pincer maneuver with this success, it would not only allow for supplies to reach the inhabitants of Nubl and Zahraa but also block Turkish supplies from flowing through Azaz onto rebel-held suburbs of Aleppo. As to add insult to injury, government troops at al-Mallah are just a few miles from having encircled rebels inside Aleppo city entirely. Effectively, Islamist rebels in Aleppo – largely represented by Jaish al-Fateh and Jabhat al-Nusra – could easily find themselves unable to protect several vulnerable frontlines across the province.