Despite the unpromising facts on the ground, the rebels were upbeat. “The [regime] army is sick. It is destroyed from inside. There is no power inside it,” Abu Ahmed, another commander, explained. Striking a vivid analogy, he added: “They have plenty of weapons from Russia. But this is like an injection into the arm of a dying man.” One fighter then showed off a large mortar that had landed on the terrace. “Don’t worry. It didn’t explode,” he said.
The FSA fighters who slipped into the city nine days ago now control a crescent-shaped chunk of Aleppo, a city known to Syrians by its Arabic name of Haleb. They moved into districts where they are confident of support, setting up checkpoints bordering other areas possibly more sympathetic to the regime. They are armed with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs – not enough, it would appear, to defeat Assad’s tanks and helicopter gunships.
Assad’s strategy seems clear enough: to besiege the rebels inside Aleppo, as in Homs, and to shell them until they are crushed. The difference now, however, is that the FSA controls large chunks of the Syrian countryside, including the environs of Aleppo. And it believes it is winning. “They think they are besieging us. In fact we are besieging them,” the commander Abu Ahmed said.