ALEPPO / HATAY
Forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad move to regain the control of Aleppo with a major military operation while a new wave of refugees heads for Turkey
An empty street is pictured in the Salaheddin neighborhood following clashes between Free Syrian Army rebels and Syrian Army soldiers in central Aleppo. The Syrian military is moving to regain control of the city from rebels as Turkey sees another wave of refugee influx (inset) of 2,400 people due to the rising violence in the country. Reuters photo
Syrian troops launched a broad ground assault yesterday on rebel-held areas of the besieged city of Aleppo in a battle that has rattled the city for more than two weeks.
“The assault has genuinely begun and the army is advancing to cut Salaheddin in two. It will not take long, even if there are still some pockets of resistance,” a senior regime official in Damascus said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The assault came after the army had massed 20,000 troops last weekend to recover Aleppo, which the rebels claim they hold half of. A security official said the insurgents had 6,000 to 8,000 men. Syria’s state-run news agency SANA claimed regime forces have fully regained control in Salaheddin, the main rebel stronghold in the northern city. It said the military inflicted heavy losses upon “armed terrorist groups.”
Reacting to those claims, Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi of the rebel Free Syrian Army told Agence France-Presse, “It is not true that the regime army has seized control of the district. It is true that there is a barbaric and savage attack [underway].”
“They are using all the weapons [currently] at their disposal to attack Salaheddin, including fighter jets, tanks and mortars.” He said there was fighting in many districts, but that it was concentrated in Saleheddin because of the district’s “great symbolic value for us and the army.” Another security official said “the elimination of pockets of resistance should continue until Thursday morning. The army’s intention is then to seize the adjacent district of Seif al-Dawla to the east.” Thousands flee to Turkey
Aleppo, the largest city in Syria and its commercial center, holds great symbolic and strategic importance. Some 40 kilometers from the Turkish border, it has been a pillar of regime support during the uprising. As Bashar al-Assad’s forces battle for Aleppo, there has been no let-up in fighting elsewhere in Syria. More than 240 people were killed across the country on Aug. 7, with 40 of them in the central city of Homs. The number of refugees fleeing to Turkey in the past two days has also increased. Intense government bombardment of the Syrian town of Tel Rifaat close to the border sent scores of people spilling into Turkey for safety, according to a human rights activist on the ground.
Some 2,400 people, including two generals and two colonels, crossed into Turkey overnight to escape the escalating violence, bringing the number of Syrians taking shelter in the country to 50,000. Before the latest overnight wave the Foreign Ministry said Aug. 7 that 47,500 Syrians had taken shelter in Turkey, compared with 44,000 refugees at the end of July.
The most recent group of refugees was made up mostly of women and children from areas near the Syrian towns of Aleppo and Idlib, but it also included 37 defecting military personnel. Nine people were being treated at a hospital in Hatay’s Reyhanlı.