UN observer tells of devastation at rebel positions
CONFIRMATION OF the devastating effects of the Syrian army assaults on rebel positions came yesterday from the head of the United Nations monitoring mission in the war-torn country.
General Babacar Gaye, chief of the UN mission, was reporting on his first visit to Homs and the nearby city of Rastan, both major battle grounds in the struggle for Syria.
While in Homs on Sunday, he observed “heavy shelling, from artillery and mortars”, and found Rastan was “heavily damaged by an intensive shelling campaign and fierce fighting”. He saw damaged tanks and the destruction of public buildings, homes, roads, bridges but found families and open shops in some neighbourhoods.
He expressed deep concern over “ongoing violence from both sides in Aleppo” where “helicopters, tanks and artillery [are] being used”. He called on the parties to “exercise restraint and avoid further bloodshed” and urged them to “respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians”.
His teams “will be monitoring the level of violence and the use of heavy weapons . . . and assessing if there is readiness for local confidence-building measures and national dialogue”.
The convoy of Lieut Gen Gaye was attacked by government forces over the weekend and only the vehicles’ armour protected them from injury, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said yesterday in New York. “The convoy of General Gaye was attacked by army tanks,” he told reporters. “Fortunately there were no injuries.”
The key front in the war between rebels and forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad remains the northern city of Aleppo where the Syrian army announced it had taken “complete control” of the southwestern Salaheddin district and inflicted heavy losses on rebels, including non-Syrians. The names of four rebel commanders said to have been slain in the operation were published by the state news agency Sana.
An army spokesman told Syrian state television “in a few days safety and security will return” to Aleppo, where wealthy and middle-class residents are largely government supporters while the rebels have established themselves in densely populated poor areas, prompting thousands of families to flee.
The rebels said they had repelled the attack in Salaheddin and captured the strategic Anadan checkpoint 5km northwest of Aleppo after a protracted fight, giving them direct access to the city from the Turkish border.
Independent sources said the army has re-established tenuous control of the southwest Mu’adamiya and Daraya townships, where there was fighting on the weekend. However, firing continues in these areas throughout the night when rebel fighters infiltrate from the countryside.
The large Yarmouk district, home to 144,000 Palestinians who have largely remained on the sidelines of the battle, as well as 850,000 others, has received thousands of people from neighbouring areas, including Midan, where the army has reasserted control but insecurity persists, a Yarmouk resident stated. He said there were no rebels in Yarmouk.
Clashes were reported in Deraa, the cradle of the revolt, and Deir al-Zor, the oil hub in the east.
Sana said frontier guards had foiled infiltration attempts by armed elements from Lebanon and Jordan.