Syrian army, rebels reinforce as Aleppo battle rages
Published Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Clashes in the Syrian second city of Aleppo continued on Tuesday, with both rebels and government forces bringing in reinforcements for what a Damascus security source called a "decisive" battle.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said both sides were sending in more troops to the city, which has been quiet for much of the 16-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The army and the terrorist groups have both sent reinforcements for a decisive battle that should last several weeks," the source told AFP.
The rebels sent in backup from neighboring Turkey, after they seized a strategic checkpoint in Anadan, five kilometers northwest of the city of Aleppo, the source said.
"The Syrian army is surrounding rebel districts, and is bombing them, but it is going to take its time before it launches its assault on each neighborhood" held by the rebel Free Syrian Army, the source said.
A Reuters reporter heard helicopters firing heavy machine guns over the eastern part of the city on Tuesday for the first time in several days.
Earlier, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels attacked key military targets and overran two police stations in Aleppo, killing 40 officers.
Rebels used rocket-propelled grenades in pre-dawn attacks on a military court, an air force intelligence headquarters and a branch of the ruling Baath Party in the city, said the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman.
Later, "hundreds of rebels attacked the police stations in Salhin and Bab al-Nayrab (neighborhoods) and at least 40 policemen were killed during the fighting, which lasted for hours," Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Hospitals and makeshift clinics in rebel-held eastern neighborhoods were filling up with casualties from a week of fighting in the city.
"Some days we get around 30, 40 people, not including the bodies," said a young medic in one clinic.
"A few days ago we got 30 injured and maybe 20 corpses, but half of those bodies were ripped to pieces. We can't figure out who they are."
Rebel groups and Islamist militants launched a major offensive on Aleppo last week, after a similar offensive against Damascus was successfully repelled by the Syrian army.
The rebels have struggled over the course of the crisis to bring their revolt to Syria's two major cities, whose insurrection has largely been played out in fringe regions of the country.
Damascus and Aleppo are the two major strongholds of the regime, where the government finds most of its support.
Outgunned rebel fighters, patrolling in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black "independence" flags, said they were holding out in Salaheddine despite a battering by the army's heavy weapons and helicopter gunships.
The Syrian government said it has recaptured Salaheddine. Reuters journalists in Aleppo have not been able to reach the neighborhood to verify who holds it.
Assad's forces are determined not to let go of Aleppo, where defeat would be a serious strategic and psychological blow.
In a city where loyalties have been divided, with sections of the population in favor of the Assad government, some seemed wary of speaking out in the presence of the fighters, many of whom have been brought in from the surrounding areas.
Asked about his allegiances, one man waiting at a police station that had been badly damaged by shellfire said: "We are not with anyone. We are on the side of truth."
Asked whose side that was, he replied: "Only God."
US, Turkey discuss crisis
Earlier on Tuesday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Barack Obama discussed how they could work together to accelerate a political transition in Syria, Erdogan's office said.
Erdogan, who once enjoyed close ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has become one of his fiercest critics and has demanded he step down in the face of a 16-month-old uprising in which thousands of civilians have died.
"In the talks, they took up the co-ordination of efforts to accelerate the process of political transition in Syria, including Bashar al-Assad leaving the administration and the meeting of the Syrian people's legitimate demands," a statement from Erdogan's office said.
Turkey is one of the primary actors in the crisis, hosting and backing armed Syrian rebel groups, including the hardline Muslim Brotherhood, amid reports in recent weeks of Islamist infiltration into Syria.
The phone call took place on Monday and Turkish media reports said Erdogan and Obama spoke for 36 minutes.
"The two leaders expressed their growing concern about the worsening human conditions in Syria because of the Syrian regime's attacks targeting its own people and the regime's savagery, most recently seen in Aleppo," it said.
Obama and Erdogan also discussed the need to work together to assist civilians trying to escape the violence in Syria.
There are about 44,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey and there are concerns that the rebel offensive in the northern city of Aleppo could lead to increasing numbers.
"Prime Minister Erdogan and President Obama agreed on the co-ordination of efforts to help Syrians forced to flee to Turkey and neighboring countries," the statement said.