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Syria: who's fighting on Assad's side? Open in fullscreen

Rami Sweid

Syria: who's fighting on Assad's side?

Pro-Assad foreign militias are operating in and around Aleppo [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 April, 2015

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Analysis: Hizballah and Palestinian groups, among others, are playing a key role in support of Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The Assad regime's armed forces have come increasingly to rely on the support of various local and foreign armed groups, many of them Shia.

In particular, such groups have taken up very prominent roles in the fighting in Aleppo and Dara.

The non-Syrian militias first appeared during the capture of al-Qusayr southwest of Homs last summer. With government air support, Hizballah fighters lead a counter-offensive on the town, which is a few miles from the Lebanese border.

Other Shia militias later joined the scene, including the predominantly Iraqi Dhu al-Fiqar and Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigades. These, together with Hizballah, were instrumental in the recapture of Nabak, Qara and Yabrud in the Qalamun district north of Damascus.

Later, Iraqi militias were openly seen fighting in the suburbs of the capital. Hizballah has fought predominantly in northern Syria, particularly in Nubl and Zahraa northwest of Aleppo and around Idlib. The group is reported to have recruited many Syrian Shias into its ranks.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights accuses Hizballah fighters and some Iraqi groups fighting for the regime of involvement in a number of major atrocities in the countryside east of Aleppo, most notably the killing of 192 civilians at Rasm al-Naql last June and of 69 at Malikiya in February 2013.
    Syrian Network for Human Rights accuses Hizbullah fighters and some Iraqi groups fighting for the regime of involvement in a number of major atrocities

It was not until last October that Iranian militias started to appear on the battlefields of Aleppo but they have now become key components of the regime's forces in and around Aleppo.

They have been supplemented by two Palestinian groups, Fatah al-Intifada and the Popular Front - General Command.

Muhannad al-Yasiri was a sergeant in the Syrian army who defected to the opposition.

Speaking exclusively to al-Araby al-Jadeed, he said that foreign militias were fighting alongside Assad's troops in several areas in Aleppo, playing a central role in their offensive in the northern Aleppo countryside last February.
Three Iranian officers, he said, masterminded the attack, one of whom led a group of Hizballah fighters in the advance.

But the plan drawn up by Iranian officers was foiled, he said, as the opposition brought in reinforcements from Aleppo and Idlib, with the militias taking heavy casualties.

More than 20 Lebanese, Iraqi and Afghan fighters were killed and seven Hizballah militiamen were captured by opposition forces.

Yasiri added said a small number of Yemenis, more than 200 Iraqis and 300 from Hizbullah were fighting in Syria, as well as some Iranian technical advisers and specialist personnel.

All the foreign fighters, he said, were active on the fronts in and around Aleppo.

Palestinian brigades

Pro-regime Palestinian groups such as al-Quds Brigade are also at the forefront of the fighting in Aleppo.

According to informed sources, this group has 2,000 fighters, most of them volunteers from Nayrab and Handarat refugee camps in Aleppo.

They were reportedly trained by the longer established Fatah al-Intifada and the PFLP-GC groups.

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