Syrian regime forces were on the defensive around Aleppo on Sunday after a rebel alliance said it inflicted a major setback by breaking a three-week government siege of the battered city.
A coalition of rebels and jihadists surged through regime territory on Saturday to open a new route into Aleppo’s besieged eastern neighbourhoods, home to an estimated 250,000 people.
The breakthrough was met with euphoric scenes among civilians and opposition fighters in eastern districts, but sparked fear of food shortages among residents of regime-controlled western areas.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the development was one of the most significant setbacks for government forces since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
“Despite more than 600 Russian strikes, the regime forces were not able to hold onto their positions,” he said.
Steadfast regime ally Moscow has provided air support for forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.
Abdel Rahman said there were intermittent air strikes and clashes on the southern edges of the city on Sunday, where the opposition alliance overran a series of buildings in a military academy the previous evening.
They then pushed northeast into the district of Ramussa, linking up with rebel groups that had fought south from inside the city.
Rebels posted footage of their fighters embracing and celebrating the end of the government encirclement, in place since July 17.