Syrian army reasserts control over rebel areas


THE SYRIAN army yesterday reasserted control over several districts of the capital and nearby towns as rebels clashed with troops in Aleppo, the country’s commercial hub.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was shown on state television receiving the new armed forces chief, Gen Ali Abdullah Ayub.

Troops conducted systematic operations targeting the northeastern Damascus neighbourhoods of Ruki al-Din and Qaboon, where rebels from the Free Syrian Army withdrew after the area was leafleted by the army warning it would come under bombardment if they remained.

Syrian state television showed pictures of bloodstained corpses and handcuffed men said to be captured rebels. Barzeh, a township where rebels have held sway for months, was reportedly overrun last night by a division commanded by the president’s brother, Maher al-Assad. Helicopters were said to have been deployed.

Rebels holed up in Mezze, a large district to the west where many foreign diplomats reside, were chased into adjacent fields and orchards, a source said.

Traffic was heavier yesterday than on Saturday and some shops were open in the city’s main food market and in the covered Souq al-Hamidiyeh in the old city.

Many bakeries are closed, so bread is in short supply. Rubbish is piling up in the streets. There are long queues at petrol pumps due to a fuel shortage.

Aleppo, a multi-confessional city loyal to the regime, has experienced the first serious fighting since the revolt began 16 months ago. Rebels, who declared that the operation to “liberate” it had begun, moved into the city from the north. Clashes occurred near the main security headquarters in the city centre and thousands of residents have fled areas caught up in the violence.

Ankara has confirmed that rebels have seized the Syrian side of the Bab al-Salam border crossing with Turkey. They captured the Bab al-Hawa crossing last week, and looted the terminal and Turkish lorries transporting food and medical supplies.

Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group, called on its fighters to refrain from pillage, killing of Syrian troops and civilians, and destruction of public property.

Syrian forces have retaken posts on the Iraqi frontier captured by rebels last week, where at least 21 Syrian soldiers were executed by insurgents.

Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, has revealed that Syrian Kurds have been armed and trained there and sent back into Syria to seize control of areas of eastern Syria with a Kurdish majority. The Kurdish flag is flying alongside the rebel banner in Kurdish-held towns and villages.

Kurdish leaders, who have been reluctant to join the Arab-dominated opposition, are expected to proclaim a Kurdish National Council, a move certain to cause alarm in Turkey, which has been fighting Kurdish rebels for decades.

Foreign Policy reported that 40 senior members of the Syrian opposition have been meeting in Berlin over the past six months under the sponsorship of the US Institute of Peace to plan for a post-Assad Syria. The results of the effort have been submitted to the US-led Friends of Syria group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 19,106 people had died during the unrest.