In early June, Russian aircraft led heavy bombing runs against Syrian rebels holding the western side of Aleppo. The attacks focused on the towns of Haritan and Kafr Hamrah in preparation for a major loyalist offensive. To achieve its aim of completely encircling rebel positions in the city, Damascus has committed large numbers of troops, including elements of the 4th Mechanized Division, National Defense Forces and Kataeb al-Baath. Previous loyalist attempts to break the rebel hold on Aleppo have repeatedly failed, but with continued attrition among the defenders and Russian air support, the chances of success have substantially improved. Syria also committed the Tiger Forces, commanded by Col. Suheil al-Hassan, to spearhead the attack from a position just north of Mallah Farms.
On June 10, the Tiger Forces struck Mallah Farms in the opening salvo of the Aleppo ground offensive. Weeks of fighting ensued, but by June 28, the Syrian forces had managed to take control of the area. Nine days later, loyalists in the south advanced toward al-Layramoun roundabout, moving northward to meet the Tiger Forces as they continued south from Mallah Farms. At that stage, the Aleppo rebels' main supply line, Castello Road, was in jeopardy. On July 9, government troops seized Jabenja hill, an overlook just south of Mallah Farms that dominates the Castello Road. Since then, the rebels have been unable to funnel supplies in or out of Aleppo using this route.
Now Syrian troops are attempting to close the pincer formation that is taking shape around the rebel pocket in eastern Aleppo. Over the past two weeks, loyalist forces pushing up from the south regained control of al-Khalidiyah district, the al-Layramoun industrial area and al-Layramoun bus station. At the same time, their Tiger Forces counterparts advancing from the north have overrun the Castello complex, claiming a significant section of Castello Road. The two prongs are within sight of each other, effectively shutting down the Aleppo rebel pocket despite not yet having merged. The capture of the youth housing complex on Castello Road by Kurdish fighters has only worsened the rebels' predicament by further isolating them and severing their supply lines in yet another location.
If forces loyal to the Syrian government manage to complete and maintain their encirclement of eastern Aleppo, it will be very difficult for the rebels caught there to survive. This is not to say the battle for Aleppo would end immediately: The loyalists would still have the difficult task of clearing well-defended buildings, not to mention containing the rebels' continued efforts to break the encirclement. However, it would almost certainly shift the balance of the fight in the Syrian government's favor.