Syrian rebel fighters take their position in Salaheddine neighbourhood of Aleppo on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Syrian rebel fighters run low on ammunition in Aleppo

For commanders assembled at the headquarters of Aleppo’s main rebel unit, the Liwa al-Tawhid Brigade, the current stalemate in Syria’s second city boils down to a lack of ammunition.

Their current depleted supply, used sparingly by snipers, is just enough to defend the positions they hold but not to advance, as regime forces and rebels remain holed up either side of the front line.

Rebel commanders arrive one after the other for an evening debriefing, gathering from bases in the districts of Saif al-Dawla, Izaa, Salaheddin and Amiriya in eastern Aleppo.

Some come in fatigues, some wear only semi-military outfit and others are in civilian clothes.

Among them are a mishmash of fighters, some wearing bandanas with the Islamic profession of faith scrawled on, others sporting tattoos of arrow-pierced hearts.

Everyone has more or less the same take on the current situation: nothing is moving in Aleppo, due to a lack of rebel ammunition.

After a crucial breakthrough at the end of July in the city which was initially spared the violence of the uprising against the Syrian regime, the rebels will now only fight to hold their positions.

“The front line hasn’t moved for a month,” says Abu Furat, a commander of Liwa al-Tawhid. The defecting former army officer attributes the current standstill to a lack of rebel firepower.

“The countries who claim to defend human rights have to supply us,” one man says, as each commander recounts the same story: “I’m out of ammo.”

“I haven’t received a single bullet from commanders outside the country,” says another rebel fighter, referring to the top command of the Free Syrian Army, which has announced its transfer to inside Syria after a year based in Turkey.

The FSA leaders say that with 5,000 assault rifles and 2,500 rocket launchers seized in a raid on the Hanano military base, the rebels should be well-equipped.

“You young people, you know Facebook and the Internet, launch an online appeal, do something,” appeals a commander in Aleppo.

He sits among other commanders leaning over two maps. One is stuck onto a wooden board and another is printed off the internet and laminated in plastic.

They point to the maps indicating which areas they’ve taken in the latest action. Some streets have been captured by the armed opposition, others still escape their grasp.

“We control around 60 to 70 per cent of Aleppo and 100 per cent of the region’s towns,” claims Hajji al-Bab, a top commander.

The Syrian air force maintains control of the skies, however, carrying out regular bombardments. Reporters also noted that regime forces held several roads between Aleppo and the Turkish border to the north.

“The other day we attacked the army, killing and wounding dozens of soldiers, but as usual the state media announced a ‘successful operation against armed terrorist groups’ and the death of ‘hundreds of terrorists,’” says one rebel, amid laughter from his comrades.

The regime has attributed the violence in the country to “terrorists” since the outbreak of the revolt in March last year.

After reviewing the latest operations, it was time to plan for the next day.

“We’ve identified an army colonel who kills civilians. That’s your sector, I’ll ask you to deal with it. If you want, I can give you a sniper,” Abu Furat tells a unit commander.

An army sniper recently defected to the rebels, bringing his helmet and hi-tech sights, which the insurgents say is Iranian-made.

This new recruit is invaluable to the rebels in Aleppo, where most of the battles are now played out between snipers.