US, Turkey consider no-fly zones for Syria


The United States and Turkey are considering imposing no-fly zones and other steps to help Syrian rebel forces as the conflict there deepens, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.

Ms Clinton told reporters after meeting Turkish foreign minster Ahmet Davutoglu that Ankara and Washington needed to get into the details of operational planning on ways to assist the rebels fighting to topple president Bashar al-Assad.

"Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that," she said.

Asked if such discussions included options such as imposing a no-fly zone over territory that Syrian rebels claim to control, Ms Clinton indicated that was a possible option.

"The issues you posed within your question are exactly the ones the minister and I agreed need greater in-depth analysis," Ms Clinton answered, although she indicated no decisions were necessarily imminent.

"It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning," she said.

The imposition of no-fly zones by foreign powers were crucial in helping Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year. But until recently, the United States and its European allies have expressed reluctance to take on an overt military role in Syria's 17-month-old conflict.

The rebels are believed to be getting arms from Saudi Arabia and Qatar but only non-lethal assistance from the United States.

Mr Davutoglu, responding to a similar question, said it was time for outside powers to take decisive steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis in cities such as Aleppo, which is under daily Syrian government bombardment.

In the latest battles, tanks and troops pummelled rebels near the shattered district of Salaheddine, a former opposition stronghold that commands the main southern approach to Aleppo.

Tank fire crashed into the adjacent Saif al-Dawla neighbourhood as military jets circled over an abandoned police station held by rebels, firing missiles every few minutes.

Insurgents said they had been forced to retreat in the latest twist in relentless, see-saw battles for Salaheddine, part of a swathe of Aleppo seized by rebels last month.

Some rebels, outgunned and low on ammunition in Aleppo, have pleaded for outside military help, arguing that more weapons and a no-fly zone over areas they control near the Turkish border would give them a secure base against Assad's forces.

"The reason we retreated from Salaheddine this week is a lack of weapons," complained Abu Thadet, a rebel commander in Aleppo who said his fighters would regroup and fight back. "We can handle the bombing. It's the snipers that make it hard."

Ten of the 30 fighters in his brigade have been wounded, mostly by snipers lurking even in areas rebels claim to control. His men have broken holes in walls of buildings to try to create safe passages for them to move around in Salaheddine.

In Damascus, where Mr Assad's forces have regained control of districts overrun by rebels last month, a resident reported an explosion near the Central Bank, followed by gunfire.

"The explosion was huge. There has been fighting for the past half-hour along Pakistan Street. I am very close. Can you hear that?" she told Reuters, a bang audible over the telephone.

Syrian state TV said authorities were hunting "terrorists" who had set off a bomb in Merjeh, an area near the central bank, and who were "shooting at random to spark panic among citizens".


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