Syrian army bombards rebels in embattled city of Aleppo
THE SYRIAN military ratcheted up its efforts to flush rebel fighters out of Aleppo yesterday, firing artillery and mortars and flying fighter aircraft over the city as its residents continued to flee what both regime and rebel forces believe will prove a decisive battle in the revolt against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Hospitals and clinics in rebel-held eastern districts of the city, which is Syria’s most populous, were reportedly inundated with casualties after a week of fierce fighting, most of which has centred on the Salaheddine district of southwest Aleppo, where Dr Assad’s troops have been supported by helicopter attacks. The Syrian military yesterday said it had recaptured the area, but opposition fighters insisted they were staving off the army after a 10-day assault.
The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 40 people, including 30 civilians, were killed in Syria yesterday.
Across Syria’s northern flank, rebel forces are mulling over plans to come to the aid of their fellow fighters in Aleppo through mounting an assault on regime forces stationed in the city. “We will go to help our brothers,” said one rebel fighter. “We must stand together.”
The opposition Syrian National Council yesterday accused the government of preparing to carry out “massacres” in Aleppo and pleaded for heavy weapons to allow the poorly equipped rebels to repel the attack. It also called on the UN to hold an emergency session to discuss ways to protect civilians caught up in the conflict.
Opposition forces seized a strategic checkpoint in Anadan, a town northwest of Aleppo, after a 10-hour gun battle. During the assault, the rebels captured and destroyed several tanks and armoured vehicles.
The gain allows them free movement between the northern city and Turkey. Rebels now control a number of border posts along Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq, allowing them access to “new and improved” weaponry, one rebel commander told The Irish Times at the weekend.
Meanwhile, the charge d’affaires at the Syrian embassy in London resigned because he could no longer represent a government that committed such “violent and oppressive acts” against its own people, the British foreign office said. With his resignation, Khaled al-Ayoubi joins an increasing number of senior Syrian officials who have defected.
The deputy police chief in Syria’s coastal city of Latakia also defected and fled to Turkey overnight with 11 other Syrian officers, according to Turkish officials. Hundreds more Syrians have crossed the Turkish border in recent days, many of them fleeing the violence in Aleppo just a short drive away, bringing the total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey to about 43,500. The UN has said more than 200,000 civilians have fled Aleppo, a major commercial centre. Those who remain in the city report increasing desperation as food and fuel shortages start to bite.
UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan called on both sides to hold back, and he continued to argue that only a political solution could bring the conflict to an end.
“The escalation of the military build-up in Aleppo and the surrounding area is further evidence of the need for the international community to come together to persuade the parties that only a political transition, leading to a political settlement, will resolve this crisis,” he said.
US defence secretary Leon Panetta said he believed the Assad regime’s assault on Aleppo could be the final “nail in the coffin” for the leader. Mr Panetta said Dr Assad had “lost all legitimacy, and the more violence he engages in, the more he makes the case that the regime is coming to an end”.