Syria steps up campaign to drive rebels out of Aleppo
The Syrian military stepped up its campaign to drive rebel fighters out of Aleppo, but rebels said they were still holding firm in the country's biggest city, which they have vowed to turn into the "grave of the regime".
Opposition activists denied a government declaration that its forces had recaptured the Salaheddine district, in southwest Aleppo, straddling the most obvious route for Syrian troop reinforcements coming from the south.
Hospitals and makeshift clinics in rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods were filling up with casualties from a week of fighting in the city, a commercial hub that had previously stayed out of a 16-month-old revolt against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
"Some days we get around 30, 40 people, not including the bodies," said a young medic in one clinic.
"A few days ago we got 30 injured and maybe 20 corpses, but half of those bodies were ripped to pieces. We can't figure out who they are."
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 40 people, 30 of them civilians, were killed in Syria today.
Two rebel fighters died in Salaheddine.Outgunned rebel fighters, patrolling in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black "independence" flags, said they were holding out in Salaheddine despite a battering by the army's heavy weapons and helicopter gunships.
A fighter jet flew overhead, a reminder of the overwhelming military advantage still enjoyed by government forces 16 months into the uprising.
"We always knew the regime's grave would be Aleppo," said Mohammed, a young fighter, fingering the bullets in his tattered brown ammunition vest.
"Damascus is the capital, but here we have a fourth of the country's population and the entire force of its economy. Bashar's forces will be buried here."
Above: Video showing some of the fighting in the town of Anadan, northwest of the city of Aleppo, and rebels forces showing what appears to be captured military hardware after the battle
So far, however, the government's superiority on the ground means rebels have had little success in holding on to urban territory.
The rebels made a major push into Damascus two weeks ago, but were later driven out.
An unidentified Syrian army officer said on state television late last night that troops had pushed "those mercenary gunmen" completely out of Salaheddine, adding: "In a few days, safety and security will return to the city of Aleppo."
Journalists in Aleppo have been unable to approach Salaheddine to verify who controls it.
The army's assault on Salaheddine echoed its tactics in Damascus earlier this month when it used its overwhelming firepower to mop up rebel fighters district by district.
Dr Assad's forces are determined not to let go of Aleppo, where defeat would be a serious strategic and psychological blow.
Military experts believe the rebels are too lightly armed and poorly commanded to overcome the army, whose artillery pounds the city at will and whose gunships control the skies.
"Yesterday they were shelling the area at a rate of two shells a minute. We couldn't move at all," said a man calling himself a spokesman for the "Aleppo Revolution" group.
"It's not true at all that the regime's forces are in Salaheddine."
Warfare has stilled the usual commercial bustle in this city of 2.5 million.
Vegetable markets are open but few people are buying. Instead, crowds of sweating men and women wait nearly three hours to buy limited amounts of heavily subsidised bread.
In a city where loyalties have been divided, with sections of the population in favour of the Assad government, some seemed wary of speaking out in the presence of the fighters, many of whom have been drafted in from surrounding areas.
Asked about his allegiances, one man waiting at a police station that had been badly damaged by shellfire said: "We are not with anyone. We are on the side of truth."
Asked whose side that was, he replied: "Only God."Others stopped members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and asked them to do something about the supply of bread and petrol.
Rebel fighters remain in control of swathes of the city, moving around those areas armed with assault rifles and dressed in items of camouflage clothing in an edgy show of confidence.
They were emboldened to strike at Aleppo and central Damascus by a July 18th explosion that killed four of Assad's top security officials.
The rebels include small numbers of foreign fighters drawn from other Arab countries, commanders in northwest Syria say.
Some rebel checkpoints in Aleppo were flying black and white banners of Islamist militants.