DAMASCUS: Syria’s army broke a siege of Aleppo prison Thursday, cutting off a major rebel supply route, as Damascus allies China and Russia vetoed a bid to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The Western-proposed UN Security Council resolution, which would have covered war crimes committed by all sides in the civil war, comes less than a fortnight before President Bashar al-Assad’s expected re-election. Tanks and armoured vehicles rolled into the grounds of the prison in the main northern city of Aleppo, more than a year into a rebel siege of the sprawling complex, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The development puts the army and its allies, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, within reach of Castelo Road, which rebels in Aleppo have relied on as a supply route leading to a countryside rear base.
An army spokesman told state television this “tightens the noose around the terrorists’ positions in the eastern and northern edges of Aleppo, and cuts off the roads (they) were using to move from the northern countryside towards the city.” The regime refers to the rebels as “terrorists.” The advance into the area around the prison was preceded by an aerial assault Thursday, said the Observatory.
Rebel fighters have repeatedly attacked the prison since April 2013, hoping to free approximately 3,500 detainees, who are reportedly being held in dire conditions.
Troops inside the prison have fought to defend it. The prison had nearly 4,000 inmates before the siege, including Islamists. Poor humanitarian conditions, including a lack of food and medicines, and the bombardment have caused the death of some 600 prisoners, according to the Observatory.
State television showed footage shot inside the prison, and a reporter interviewed both security forces and prisoners, including women. The latest success comes on the heels of another significant victory for the regime, which this month reclaimed the Old City of Homs, Syria’s third city once dubbed the “capital of the revolution.”
The conflict flared when Assad’s opponents took up arms in response to a bloody crackdown on a popular uprising in March 2011. It is estimated to have claimed at least 162,000 lives and displaced nearly half the population. Despite the war, the Damascus regime is to stage a presidential election on June 3 in the areas under its control.
The exiled opposition has dismissed the election as a “farce,” while the United States has branded it a “parody of democracy.”
Assad, running for a third seven-year term against two virtual unknowns, is expected to stroll to victory in the poll.
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