Syrian loyalists repel rebel attack on Aleppo


A FRONTAL assault launched by rebels in an attempt to regain lost ground in the northern city of Aleppo has dissolved into street-by-street fighting after Syrian army troops fiercely defended their positions.

Some rebel units were said to be surrounded, while others were obliged to retreat before entering the city.

State television said a number of “terrorists” had been killed and that rebel mortar fire in the southeast of the city had wounded 10 and killed three civilians, including two children.

The rebel Tawhid Brigade reportedly engaged pro-government Kurdish fighters in the Sheikh Maksoud neighbourhood adjacent to Ashrafiyeh, a large Kurdish quarter which had remained outside the conflict. The rebels can expect to meet strong resistance from the Kurds who have a local defence force organised by the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) which can call on reinforcements from other Kurdish quarters and towns .

Rebel commanders had announced a “decisive battle” for Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city and commercial capital. Hundreds of rebels from independent and often sparring militias have united under the Free Syrian Army banner.

A rebel victory in loyalist Aleppo, which had been spared violence until late July, could give them control of a wide belt of territory extending northwards to the Turkish border. But a rebel defeat would represent a big psychological setback.

Activists said a warplane bombed a cluster of houses near Azaz, a rebel staging point one kilometre from the Turkish border, killing a number of people, while a shell fired across the border wounded a Turkish citizen.

Ground forces, supported by armour, also carried out house-to-house searches for fighters and weapons in the restive districts of Barzeh, Jabor and Qaboun north-east of Damascus. Soldiers clashed with insurgents in Yarmouk, a southern neighbourhood where 114,000 Palestinians live. Rebels have been trying to recruit Palestinian youths for many months, but the community has tried to stay out of the conflict.

The rebel offensive in Aleppo was timed to coincide with a meeting of the Friends of Syria in New York. The rebel objective appeared to be to demonstrate a capacity to operate under a unified command and retake strategic targets. The ad hoc gathering, hosted by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, brought together members of the Syrian opposition and 20 ministers from the US, EU and Arab League on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Iraq, which supports Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, attended for the first time.

The aim of the meeting was to encourage the divided opposition to co-operate and formulate common objectives. Grassroots activists have called for greater humanitarian assistance and more pressure on the Assad regime.

Russia, China and Iran, which disagree with the approach of the western powers and their Arab allies, did not attend. Rivalries among permanent members the Security Council has meant deadlock over the Syrian crisis for more than a year.

US defence secretary Leon Panetta announced that Syria’s chemical weapons have been consolidated in secure locations under government control.

The UN Human Rights Council voted to extend its investigation into rights violations and condemned the “increasing number of massacres” in the country. A resolution, submitted by seven Arab members, condemned all violence in Syria.