Syria: Artillery fire and street fighting as Assad turns attention to Aleppo
With warplanes circling overhead, Syrian attack helicopters pounded rebel-held districts of Aleppo yesterday in an escalation of the battle for the country’s commercial capital and largest city.
Following a pair of rebel assaults on the country’s two main cities and a bombing that wiped out some of his top security last week advisers, president Bashar al-Assad reshuffled his top intelligence posts, dismissing one general and appointing a new national security council chief to replace the one killed.
The Syrian regime, deeply shaken after last week’s attack on Mr Assad’s inner circle and shocked by rebel advances, has turned to heavy artillery and helicopter gunships to uproot the opposition fighters in Damascus and now Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, with a population of about three million.
“It’s like a real war zone over here, there are street battles over large parts of the city,” said Aleppo-based opposition activist Mohammed Saeed via telephone. “Aleppo has joined Homs and Hama and other revolutionary cities.” Gunfire and explosions could be heard in the background as he spoke.
Four days into the rebel attack on Aleppo, Mr Saeed estimated that opposition fighters were holding large chunks of the city.
Video uploaded to the internet by activists showed rebels in camouflage vests running through the streets of the historic central district of Bab al-Hadid carrying assault rifles, as the clatter of machinegun fire echoed in the background.
Facing a resilient opposition, the government responded with attack helicopters to pound rebellious areas, and fighter jets circling overhead periodically roared down and broke the sound barrier in an apparent attempt to cow the rebels.
“It’s the worst day of fighting in Aleppo so far, but I can’t tell what’s happening on the ground or who’s in control,” said a man in the Zahra neighbourhood, about three miles from some of the heaviest clashes. “In the end it’s the civilians who will pay the price of this street fighting.”
Syria’s rebels appear to be holding out in Aleppo, despite being outmanned and outgunned by the regime’s professional army. The battle has spread from neighbourhoods in the north-east and south-west of the city to previously untouched areas such as Firdous in the south and Arkoub closer to the centre, local activists and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
On Sunday, a new alliance of rebel groups called the Brigade for Unification announced an operation to take the city. While the rebels have not been able to hold areas for any significant period, the continued fighting highlights the government’s inability to definitely defeat the lightly armed opposition forces.
Prisoners in Aleppo’s jail also rioted overnight and activists said at least eight have been killed by government forces. Another prison riot in the city of Homs was quelled with tear gas and live ammunition.
The worsening situation in Syria, where activists estimate more than 19,000 people have died since March 2011, has prompted increasing concern and veiled threats from Syria’s neighbours.
On Monday night, Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan told a party rally: “We believe that the people of Syria are ever closer to victory.”
In Saudi Arabia, a country that has openly pledged to fund rebels, state television announced the country had collected $32 million in donations for “our brothers in Syria”.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North west