Syria verges on all-out civil war
A SPECIAL UN envoy is being sent to Syria after fighting between rebel forces and government troops intensified last week, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon announced yesterday.
He said undersecretary general for peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, would provide a first-hand assessment following a rebel bomb attack in the Syrian capital, Damascus, which killed four top-level officials of president Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Those killed included Assad’s brother-in-law, deputy defence minister Assef Shawkat, defence minister Dawoud Rajha and Hassan Turkmani, a former defence chief. Security chief General Hisham Ikhityar died of his injuries on Friday and was buried yesterday.
Ban was speaking a day after the UN Security Council agreed to a 30-day extension for an unarmed observer mission and two days after Russia and China vetoed a resolution to impose further sanctions on the Assad’s government.
“The unanimous vote on Resolution 2051 is a constructive sign,” Ban said. “The Syrian government has manifestly failed to protect civilians and the international community has collective responsibility to live up to the UN Charter and act on its principles.”
In Syria yesterday government troops clashed with rebels in the north-east city of Aleppo for a second day, forcing inhabitants to flee to safer areas in some of the fiercest fighting to date in a key bastion of support for the Assad regime, activists said.
Rebels are anxious to seize the momentum after a week of battles in Damascus, which have nudged the country closer to all-out civil war.
Two days of clashes in Aleppo’s Salaheddine district brought sustained fighting to the city’s centre for the first time since the uprising began in March 2011. The city, Syria’s largest by population, has remained loyal to Assad and been spared daily bloodshed that has plagued other cities.
But Aleppo-based activist Mohammad Saeed said dozens of fighters from the Free Syrian Army had now entered the city from the countryside and were fighting regime troops.
“This night was very bad, there were huge explosions and the gunfire didn’t stop for several hours,” he said via Skype. “The uprising has finally reached Aleppo.”
Damascus and Aleppo are both home to elites who have benefited from close ties to the Alawite Assad regime, as well as merchant classes and minority groups who fear their status will suffer if the Shia-allied president falls.
But for months, rebels have been gaining strength in poorer towns and cities in the Aleppo countryside, gaining footholds near the Turkish border, 45 miles to the north.
Activists and residents reported a tense calm in Damascus yesterday, although sporadic gunfire and explosions could be heard.
Two residents said by telephone that the fighting peaked between 1am and 3am local time. One said most shops in the capital were closed yesterday and traffic was sparse.
Authorities have set up checkpoints at the entrances of Damascus in an effort to seal the centre from rebellious neighbourhoods, and a resident said many shops and traders were unable to get supplies. Piles of rubbish were starting to build up in parts of the city.
“The tension is palpable, people are scared about what might be coming,” the resident said by phone from the middle-class Mazzeh district. “A lot of people are just staying at home.”
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a Damascus activist said two people were found dead in the Midan district after regime forces stormed their flat.
The activist said the pair had been stabbed with knives, but that could not be independently confirmed. Syrian forces recaptured the battle-scarred neighbourhood on Friday and showed reporters the bodies of rebel fighters lying in rubble-strewn streets.
The fighting in Damascus has sent thousands of Syrians pouring into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.
Iraq officials also said about 1,000 of its nationals had left in eight flights from Damascus over the past two days to escape the escalating civil war. Thousands more poured through a land crossing despite the rebel takeover of a major Syrian border post.
Captain Saad al-Khafaji of state-owned Iraqi Airways said Iraqi authorities sent four planes to Damascus airport yesterday to evacuate Iraqis stranded in the Syrian capital.
“The planes are waiting for Iraqi passengers, but few are showing up at Damascus airport,” he said, adding that it was difficult to reach the airport because of the violence.
Anger has been building in Aleppo at the deadly crackdown on the uprising and in recent months, huge anti-government protests have broken out, particularly among students at Aleppo University.
The Local Co-ordination Committees activist network and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting that began in Aleppo on Friday forced many residents to flee to safer areas.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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