Syria's cease-fire is crumbling under the weight of current and pending military operations in the country. Focused on the province and city of Aleppo, the operations stand to play a decisive role in determining the direction of the civil war. In the coming weeks, the results of these battles could change the balance between rebels and loyalists, alter the Islamic State's position in the region, and influence the relationship between the United States and Turkey as they pursue conflicting objectives in Aleppo.
With major military operations already underway in Aleppo and more to come, the province is emerging as the focal point of the war in Syria. Of the ongoing battles in the region, the largest and most decisive is the fight between rebels and loyalists for the divided city of Aleppo. As yet another round of talks in Geneva loom on the horizon, the battle for the city is critical to both Syrian government forces and their rebel counterparts. Damascus hopes to cement its position and quell talks of a political transition through a decisive military victory in Aleppo. Meanwhile, the rebels are fighting for the survival of their cause. If the rebels lose Aleppo, any military victory against Damascus will become a distant dream, and their negotiating position in Geneva will be severely compromised.
According to Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi, Moscow and Damascus are planning a joint operation to fully take over the city. A stream of Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian, Pakistani, Lebanese and Afghan loyalist reinforcements heading to Aleppo province supports this claim. Even a pro-government Palestinian faction is participating in the battle, having launched attacks in the Handarat area just north of the city. Russia, however, has denied any plan to join in the operation, suggesting that the Syrian and Iranian governments may be primarily responsible for coordinating the Aleppo campaign.
Well aware of the loyalists' plans, rebel groups have been carrying out their own offensives in Aleppo. Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Free Syrian Army units and a host of other militant groups have focused on the province's southern region. The rebels initially succeeded, seizing the strategic high ground around Tel al-Eis. But the steady buildup of loyalist forces in the province, backed by substantial Russian air support, has foiled subsequent attempts by the rebels to advance.