Assad forces pound Aleppo rebels
President Bashar al-Assad's forces renewed a ground and aerial bombardment of Aleppo today, extending efforts to crush rebels in Syria's commercial capital in what the United States said it feared could become a massacre.
Insurgents targeted army roadblocks and security installations, with both sides avoiding close-quarters warfare in the city of 2.5 million people, Syria's biggest urban centre.
A rebel commander said insurgents had attacked a convoy of Syrian army tanks heading towards the city, as the government continued to redeploy forces from other parts of the country to bolster its forces there.
The US State Department said credible reports of tank columns moving on Aleppo, along with air strikes by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, represented a serious escalation of Dr Assad's efforts to crush a rebellion that began 16 months ago.
"This is the concern: that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that's what the regime appears to be lining up for," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has today described the assault on the city as an "utterly unacceptable escalation" of the conflict which “could lead to a devastating loss of civilian life and a humanitarian disaster”.
Troops stationed on the outskirts of Aleppo unleashed barrages of heavy-calibre mortar rounds on the western neighbourhoods of Saladin, al-Sukkari and al-Fardos, while Russian MI-25 helicopter gunships struck al-Sakhour in the east with rockets, several opposition activists in the city said.
In the first reported casualty today, a man of about 60 wearing a traditional white prayer outfit was killed near a park in Saladin. His body was placed in a mosque pending identification.
Thirty-four people were killed in Aleppo and its environs yesterday, according to opposition activists keeping a tally of casualties in the northern city.
The heavy fighting around Aleppo follows an audacious bomb attack that killed four of Dr Assad's closest lieutenants in Damascus on July 18th and led some analysts to speculate that the government's grip was slipping.
With UN Security Council resolutions for sanctions against Syria vetoed by Russia and China for a third time last week, the United States has said it is stepping up assistance to Syria's
fractured opposition, although it remains limited to non-lethal supplies such as communications gear and medical equipment.
Reuters has learned that the White House has crafted a presidential directive, called a "finding," that would authorise greater covert assistance for the rebels, while still stopping short of arming them.It is not clear whether president Barack Obama has signed the document, and US officials declined to comment on the finding, which is a highly classified authorisation for covert activity.
Syrian parliamentarian representing the northern province of Aleppo said today she had defected to Turkey, becoming the first member of the rubberstamp assembly elected in May and dominated by president Bashar al-Assad's Baath Party to defect.
"I have crossed to Turkey and defected from this tyrannical regime ... because of the repression and savage torture against a nation demanding the minimum of rights," Ikhlas al-Badawi told Sky News Arabia.