EDITED BY KALAHAN DENG
Faced with almost certain defeat in the city of Aleppo, Syrian rebel groups have promised to continue their war by adopting the guerrilla tactics of assassinations, armed raids and roadside bombs.
The four-year battle for control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is likely to end in the next few weeks as Syrian regime forces either advance into the remaining opposition neighbourhoods or rebel areas are forced to surrender as they run completely out of food and medicine.
Regime forces have now captured more than 60 per cent of rebel-held east Aleppo after they took the strategic district of Tariq al-Bab in fghting early on Saturday morning.
But rebel leaders say that the loss of territory will lead their forces to carry out more traditional insurgent operations against Bashar al-Assad’s troops as the regime tries to reassert full control over Aleppo for the first time since 2012.
“We didn’t rebel to take or lose a neighborhood, or a village, or a city. This is a total revolution against Bashar al-Assad, his regime, his security forces, his corrupted elite,” said Bassam Hijji, a spokesman for the Nour al-Din al-Zenki rebel group in Aleppo.
“We’ll use all the forms of resistance: guerrilla fighting, assassinations, explosions. We won’t rule out any form of fighting against the regime.”
While the fall of Aleppo was never expected to bring the six-year Syrian war to a decisive end, the defiance of rebel groups indicates it is unlikely to even bring a halt to fighting around the city.
Rebel forces control the countryside to the west of Aleppo and regularly shell the regime-controlled west of the city, often killing civilians in the process.
That shelling will likely continue but rebels said if they are driven from their east Aleppo neighbourhoods they will also look to mount raids against regime forces inside the city and try to attack supply lines outside it.
There around 8,000 rebel fighters inside east Aleppo but analysts estimate that there are around 30,000 more in the Aleppo countryside and the nearby city of Idlib and that these forces are enough to continue fighting in the area.
“The rebels will be in the countryside and will have no choice but to resort to guerrilla warfare,” said Kyle Orton, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think tank.
“They will shift away from any kind of governance structures to insurgency tactics and the regime won’t even be able to hold Aleppo properly once they take it. The insurgent attacks will be really full raids and the regime won’t be able to maintain any kind of stability.”
For now, rebel fighters are still dug in to their positions in the remaining southern neighbourhoods of east Aleppo and on Friday managed to push back an assault on the strategic Sheikh Saeed district by regime forces, Hizbollah fighters and allied militiamen from Iraq.
But as the days grind on they continue to lose ground and the roughly 250,000 civilians still inside rebel areas edge closer to starvation.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s policy chief, said Saturday: “I’m convinced the fall of Aleppo will not end the war.”