BEIRUT (AFP) ― Syria’s army has ended a yearlong rebel siege of Aleppo central prison after a fiercely fought battle for the strategic prize, a monitoring group said on Thursday.
“After a siege of nearly 13 months by Al-Nusra Front and Islamist rebels, regular armed forces backed by pro-regime fighters were able to break the siege of Aleppo central prison,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Tanks and armoured vehicles entered the prison grounds and intense celebratory gunfire was heard inside the sprawling complex, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The army’s advance in the area around the prison in northern Aleppo had “cut a path for essential supplies to rebel fighters between areas they control and the Turkish border,” Abdel Rahman said.
The breakthrough means that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are now within reach of Castelo road, which links rebel-held parts of Aleppo to the northern countryside.
Fighting in the area has killed at least 50 rebels and an unspecified number of pro-regime fighters, since Tuesday, according to the Observatory, a Britain-based group that relies on sources on the ground for its reports.
Rebel fighters have repeatedly attacked the prison since April 2013, hoping to free the approximately 3,500 detainees inside, who are reportedly being held in dire conditions.
Government soldiers inside the prison have fought to defend the complex.
In early February, a group of rebels launched a major assault on the prison and took control of the vast complex, before being partially driven back by air raids.
Many prisoners died during the siege because of a lack of food and medicines and poor hygiene.
The prison had nearly 4,000 prisoners before the siege, including Islamists. Poor humanitarian conditions and the bombardment of the area have caused the death of some 600 inmates, according to the Observatory.