Monday, July 30, 2012

Aleppo Besieged As Assad and Rebels Claim Victories

The fighting in and around Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, continues and the number of refugees is soaring. 200,000 have fled the city as a result of the brutal fighting on the streets and in the buildings of multiple neighborhoods around the city.

Both Assad and rebel forces have claimed victories. Assad's forces have claimed that they've overrun rebel held areas and retaken the city after more than a week's worth of artillery assaults and airstrikes.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group, reported heavy shelling in Salaheddine today, suggesting the district or parts of it are still under rebel control. An officer interviewed by the state-run TV channel said “mercenaries” from other countries, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, were helping the rebels in Aleppo.

Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been battling rebels who seized several neighborhoods in Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city and its commercial hub, since last week. The army pounded the city with heavy artillery and helicopter gunships, opposition groups say.

Motee al-Bateen, a member of the executive committee of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, said he couldn’t confirm that Salaheddine has fallen into army hands.

“How much territory the opposition holds is not important,” he said by telephone from Istanbul today. “What’s important is to engage the troops in cycles of attack-and- retreat to exhaust them.”

Al-Bateen said the army was using mortars, rocket launchers and tanks to shell areas from a distance and avoid engaging rebels in close combat.
Rebels note that despite the artillery and airstrikes, they've continued to hold on to Aleppo. Moreover, they've noted that Assad's forces haven't invaded the city en masse, precisely because they'd be facing an uphill battle in a brutal urban setting.

Rebel forces also announced that they captured a significant military base near Aleppo. They managed to capture the position after heavy fighting, and gained heavy weapons to supplement their own weapons.

Pro-Assad groups have claimed that Assad's forces have assassinated a Saudi official, Bandar bin Sultan, who they claim involved in plotting to eliminate key members of the Syrian defense and intel establishment earlier this month. However, there's no evidence to substantiate those claims, but it does show the animosity between Syria and Saudi Arabia is growing. The Saudis have been working to bring Assad's regime to an end, both by diplomacy and by covert means.

Meanwhile, another Syrian official has defected. At the same time, a Chinese news outlet is reporting that Assad's continuing to claim that he seeks to carry out the terms of the Arab League/Kofi Annan plan to end the violence. It's just so much talk since Assad could have simply brought the violence to an end by reining in his brutal crackdown. He has no intention of giving up power peacefully, and is seeking retribution against those that questioned his regime.

At the same time, concerns are mounting that al Qaeda and other Islamists are taking advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold in Syria.

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