Syria: Agony in Aleppo as rebel push for city stalls under sniper fire
REBELS fighting to topple president Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, have found ways to destroy government tanks and are holding their positions despite attacks by jets and helicopters.
But four months into their campaign to seize the city many are pinned down by pro-Assad snipers on the rooftops of the front line and even inside rebel areas. The local stalemates drag on and on.
“When a sniper sets up in a building, that’s it, we could be stuck for weeks trying to find just one guy,” said Abu Saif, 23, a rebel in jeans and a camouflage jacket.
In late July, rebels armed with assault rifles and home-made rockets fought their way into Aleppo and took control of much of the east of the city.
Since then, their advances have been contained by Assad’s forces and they have been unable to take the city centre, becoming trapped between the airport east of the city and western neighbourhoods where soldiers and pro-regime militia are camped out.
Their last offensive only served to bring the ancient souk and the eighth-century Great Mosque into the fray, without gaining much ground.
Mr Assad’s better-armed forces appear to have most of the sniper rifles being used in the war. The rebels too have a few of the high-accuracy weapons, but are mostly armed with assault rifles much less lethal at long range.
Increasingly, the war is one of slow attrition.
The Bustan al-Basha district is a wasteland of collapsed buildings where rebels have only advanced a few blocks in recent weeks. When sniper shots are fired at his bombed-out shelter, fighter Najmeddine carries on puffing on a cigarette as he shoots back with his unit’s one anti-aircraft gun.
The fire isn’t returned, and he groans and walks away.
“Look at us! This has become a sniper war now, and it is so boring!” he shouts in frustration. His fellow fighters chuckle and stretch out on the pavement.
“This is just a sign that this war could take years. It took us weeks to get to this corner from five blocks away,” sighs Najmeddine, wiping sweat from his moustache and peering around the corner.
The material cost of rebel advances in neighbourhoods like Bustan al-Basha has been high. Water from burst pipes floods streets littered with shards of concrete and tangles of wires. Entire walls dangle from high corners of shattered buildings.
The human cost has been worse. The major battles here have ended, but civilians and rebels are still gunned down daily by the snipers. “What’s hard about that is that you don’t want your fighters to die cheap. We want to die in battle, not like that,” said Ammar, a 34-year-old rebel with scarred and bruised arms.
His leg twitches as he shouts at his comrades to stop crossing exposed areas. But some residents have business too urgent to wait.
A bullet-holed pick-up, with a bleeding man in the back, veers around the burning tyres, forcing two rebels to jump out of the way, and speeds across a bridge as gunfire cracks out.
Rebels said the driver might have been trying to get the injured man to hospital.
“Did he make it?” a passer-by asks the fighters. A gunman stares down the road and shakes his head, replying: “Only God knows.”
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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