UN sees no winner in Syria conflict
Rebels fighting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's forces in Aleppo promised a counter-attack today after losing ground under heavy bombardment, and residents fled in cars crammed with belongings during a lull in fighting.
The rebels were pushed back from the Salaheddin district yesterday by troops seeking to re-establish control over Syria's largest city and its economic hub - a crucial arena in a struggle that the United Nations said would yield no winner.
"I have about 60 men positioned strategically at the front line and we are preparing a new attack today," said Abu Jamil, a rebel commander, saying sniper fire in Salaheddine had prevented his men from retrieving a comrade's body for two days.
Journalists saw residents streaming out of Aleppo, seizing on a calm spell to pack vehicles with mattresses, fridges and toys. At least two air force planes flew overhead.
Random shooting echoed from inside Salaheddine, a former rebel stronghold that controls access to Aleppo from the south, and an unmanned drone aircraft buzzed directly overhead.
Some residents of the shattered neighbourhood slipped back to try to salvage possessions, despite army snipers lurking there. Two civilians were hit by gunfire in nearby streets.
One, apparently shot in the buttocks, was dragged off the street by rebels and treated by medics before being taken to a field clinic. A second man was wounded in the back and arm. Blood soaked through the sleeve of his yellow jacket and his face was contorted in pain as rescuers put him in a vehicle.
In an apparent effort to project an air of normalcy, state television screened footage dated August 10th of a calm Aleppo, including images of its ancient citadel - UN World Heritage site - and cars flowing freely around a traffic circle.
It also screened footage dated August 10th of children playing in the sea at Tartous, a town on Syria's Mediterranean coast.
Dr Assad seeks to crush a rebellion against his family's 42 years in charge of the pivotal Arab state.
A member of Syria's Alawite minority, Dr Assad is engaged in an all-consuming fight with mostly Sunni Muslim foes who Damascus says are backed by Sunni-led states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
Though sympathetic to the rebels, neither these countries nor Western powers have intervened militarily.
Russia and China have blocked any UN Security Council action on Syria that would have opened the way to global sanctions against Damascus.
The United States is preparing to announce further sanctions targeting Syrian and other entities "supporting the efforts of the Syrian government to oppress its own people", a senior US official told reporters travelling with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Ghana today.
The official said the new measures, which were expected to target Dr Assad's government as well as possibly Iranian entities that the United States accuse of assisting him, would be announced in Washington later today.
Iran, Syria's closest foreign ally, called for "serious and inclusive" talks between the government and opposition at a meeting of states sympathetic to Dr Assad in Tehran yesterday.
"There will be no winner in Syria," UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said in a message to the conference.
"Now, we face the grim possibility of long-term civil war destroying Syria's rich tapestry of interwoven communities."