Government onslaught on rebels in Aleppo goes on
SYRIAN army tanks shelled Aleppo yesterday and a helicopter gunship strafed rebel positions with heavy machine-gun fire as they fought for control of the country’s biggest city and key battleground of the uprising.
After UN Security Council paralysis on Syria forced peace envoy Kofi Annan to resign last week, and with his ceasefire plan a distant memory, rebels have been battered by the government onslaught in Aleppo and the capital Damascus.
Witnesses reported fierce street fighting in the Salaheddine district, a gateway into the city of 2.5 million people and the main focus of fighting in the past week. State television said Assad’s forces were “cleansing the terrorist filth” from the country, which has been sucked into an increasingly sectarian conflict that has killed some 18,000 people.
In Damascus, troops backed by fighter jets kept up an offensive on Saturday that they began a day earlier against the last rebel bastion there, a resident said.
Both cities – vital prizes in the battle for Syria – were relatively free of violence until last month, when fighters poured into Damascus shortly before a 18 July bomb killed four of Assad’s inner circle, and entered Aleppo days later.
Rebel commanders say they anticipate a major Syrian army offensive in Aleppo and one fighter said they had already had to pull back from some streets.
“The Syrian army is penetrating our lines,” said Mohammad Salifi, a 35-year-old former government employee. “So we were forced to strategically retreat until the shelling ends,” he said, adding the rebels were trying to push the army back again.
Once a busy shopping and restaurant district where residents would spend evenings with their families, Aleppo’s Salaheddine district is now white with dust, broken concrete and rubble. Tank shell holes scar the buildings near the frontline, and homes of families and couples have been turned into look-outs and sniper locations for rebel fighters.
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