At times in Aleppo’s rebel-controlled Shaar neighborhood, one could forget that a war has been raging across the country for nearly four years, were it not for the destruction and burned-out buildings as a result of bombing. Swings are filled with children, and their laughter rings through the neighborhood. On the outskirts of Aleppo, however, at the city’s northern entrance leading to the so-called liberated neighborhoods, the scene is completely different. Successive reinforcements for the various rebel formations are arriving amid the sound of explosions and assorted battles after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces suddenly attacked Oct. 3, the first day of Eid al-Adha, and gained control of strategically important areas.

The regime began the surprise attack at 7 a.m. on the Handarat region, north of Aleppo, taking the village of Handarat and the town of Saifat, reaching the areas of Bashkawi and al-Millah. In doing so, the Handarat-Aleppo road — the most important road in terms of military supplies for rebels, stretching from the countryside of northern Aleppo to the city — was cut. The only remaining route connecting the countryside to the city is the Castillo road, which itself is no more than 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) from the front. If the regime cuts that road or gains control of it, rebel supply lines to the city of Aleppo will be completely severed, and the rebel-held neighborhoods besieged.

Opposition forces launched counterattacks on regime-held positions on Oct. 5 and were able to regain control of al-Millah and the Bashkawi junction. Since regime forces still control the village of Handarat and the town of Saifat, however, the Handarat-Aleppo road remains closed. Rebels have placed piles of stones at the beginning of the road to warn that its use is fraught with risk. The remains of cars hit by explosive barrels lie on the side of the road. […]