Army takes back Aleppo districts as fighting continues

Fri, Aug 24, 2012, 01:00

THE SYRIAN army yesterday recaptured three Christian neighbourhoods at the heart of Aleppo, while troops supported by tanks deployed in the town of Darayya, southwest of Damascus.

Last weekend rebels moved into the Christian quarters of Jdeide and Telal in Aleppo’s Old City as well as the nearby Sulamaniyeh quarter, largely inhabited by Armenians. Ancient monasteries and a Melkite Greek Catholic cathedral are located in this area.

Once the rebels pulled out, residents were said to have celebrated and formed popular committees to block the insurgents’ return.

The state news agency, Sana, said civil defence and public services were dispatched “immediately to carry out the necessary repairs and restore normal life to the neighbourhoods after they were cleansed of terrorists”.

Al Jazeera reported that rebels operating in the Aleppo countryside have complained of a lack of support from residents of the city and have welcomed foreign Arab and Muslim fighters who have joined the battle.

In Darayya troops conducted house-to-house searches for arms and gunmen. At least 15 people were said to have been killed and 150 wounded during shelling that compelled the rebels to withdraw. Darayya is part of a strategic belt of towns located near the capital’s military airport that have repeatedly changed hands during the summer.

Opposition sources said 21 people were killed in the suburb of Muadamiyeh, also in this belt, while it was reported that 46 bodies were found in the Qaboun district, on the eastern side of the capital.

Amnesty International said civilians had been suffering “horrific levels of violence” during the battle for Aleppo.

In an 11-page report, Amnesty revealed that during the first half of August its investigators found that scores of civilians, many of them children, had been killed or injured in their homes or while queuing for bread in some 30 attacks. The army used mortars, artillery, and other weapons without distinguishing between civilians and insurgents when mounting operations on rebel-held areas.

Amnesty condemned extrajudicial executions by both regime and rebel forces.

Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mikdad said the government had accepted the appointment of former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi as the new UN envoy, and expressed the hope that he would launch “national dialogue”.

Mr Brahimi was chosen to succeed Kofi Annan, who steps down at the end of the month.

A ceasefire in Tripoli in north Lebanon was breached when sniper fire killed Mohamed Sulteye in the Jebal Mohsen district, inhabited by pro-Syrian heterodox Shia Alawites who have clashed with anti-Syrian Sunnis from the Tabbaneh district. At least 11 people have been killed and 70 wounded in three days of fighting.

In Ankara, Turkish foreign ministry official Halit Cevik and US ambassador Elisabeth Jones led delegations comprising diplomats, intelligence officials and military officers in discussions aimed at expediting regime change in Syria and preparing for the “day after”.

Washington has, apparently, dispatched a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean to monitor developments in Syria and counter “threats” from Iran, accused of arming the Syrian army and providing aid to the government.

In response to US warnings that Damascus could face external military intervention if the government prepares to use chemical weapons, Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said Moscow was helping to secure Syria’s stocks of such weapons and ensure that terrorists cannot gain access to them.