TEHRAN / ALEPPO
The Syrian regime vowed yesterday that it would defeat rebels who have captured large swathes of the commercial hub Aleppo, and accused regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of trying to destroy the country.
Military forces in Aleppo fired tank and artillery shells at neighborhoods as rebels tried to repel the government’s air and ground assault. According to activists, rebels who launched an operation to take over Syria’s largest city a week ago are estimated to control between a third and a half of Aleppo’s neighborhoods.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, on a visit to Iran, leveled rare public criticism of Sunni
powers in the Middle East, saying Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were supporting a plot hatched by Israel
to destroy Syria. The three countries have all been backing rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
“Israel is the mastermind of all in this crisis,” Moallem told a joint news conference in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi. “They [Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey] are fighting on the same front.”
The battle for Aleppo, once a bastion of support for al-Assad’s regime, is critical for both the regime and the opposition. Its fall would be a major blow to al-Assad, giving the opposition a major strategic victory with a new stronghold in the north.
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) accused the government of preparing to carry out “massacres” in the northern city and called on the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency session.
“They mobilized all their armed terrorists and tried to capture Damascus in less than a week,” Moallem said. “They were defeated. Today, they’ve gone to Aleppo and definitely they will be defeated in Aleppo,” he added. The rebels mounted a challenge to the regime in Damascus before the assault on Aleppo, but after a week of intense clashes, they were defeated.
Yesterday’s bombardment was part of a government counter-offensive to retake control of districts that had fallen into rebel hands last week at the beginning of their bid to capture Aleppo.
Activists said the shelling was most intense in the southwestern neighborhoods of Salaheddine, Bustan al-Qasr and parts of Saif al-Dawla, some of the first areas seized by the rebels when they started the push last week after being routed in a similar attack against the capital Damascus.
“Life in Aleppo has become unbearable. I’m in my car and I’m leaving right now,” said a Syrian opposition writer who was fleeing the city yesterday. “There’s shelling night and day, every day,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
State-run news agency SANA said security agents were hunting down armed groups in several areas of Aleppo including Salaheddine, inflicting heavy losses upon the “terrorists” - the term authorities use to describe the rebels.
Syrian Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar vowed late Saturday that the Syrian army would root out terrorism and restore order to Syria. Al-Shaar was making his first televised appearance since he was wounded in the July 18 bomb attack in Damascus that killed four other top security leaders in al-Assad’s inner circle.
Al-Shaar’s arm was bandaged, but he said he had returned to his job with “greater determination.”
Mohammad Saeed, an Aleppo-based activist, said Sunday’s shelling was some of the heaviest seen yet.
“But the rebels are still holding up well … No ground troops have been able to enter. They are shelling from outside,” he said, adding that the rebels were fighting back against the attackers.
Saeed said around 200 fighters had entered the city Sunday to join about 1,000 fighters who had poured into the city over the past few days to take on the Syrian army, which had been massing forces around the city ahead of the bombardment.
He also said rebels had received “a new batch of weapons and ammunition,” but declined to specify from where.
Turkish FM Davutoğlu calls for UN action
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
had a phone conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday and briefed him about clashes in Aleppo as Turkey calls on the international community to step in regarding the “massacre” in Syria’s second-biggest city.
Expressing concern that situation in northern Syria also constitutes threat to countries in the region, Davutoğlu urged the U.N. to take action, according to diplomatic sources. Ban said he shared Turkey’s concerns, sources added.
“The international community should mobilize... [The mission of] the U.N. is for these days. The massacre should be stopped somehow,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
said in a televised interview yesterday.
The methods of the Syrian regime were escalating in proportion and turning into a crime against humanity, he said.
Nobody could survive as it was bombing its own people, the minister said. Aleppo is the lifeblood of Syria’s economy, he said. “Destroying Aleppo means destroying your own attribute.”
If the Syrian people somehow take action, its reflection in history was “just a matter of time,” the minister said.
The incidents in Syria affected Arab countries and Turkey most, but countries that are not affected at all have the right of veto in the U.N., he added.
In reply to Turkey’s main opposition’s criticisms regarding Ankara’s foreign policy on Syria, Davutoğlu said Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
was trying to protect Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The minister said he found the opposition’s criticisms of Syrian policy unprincipled, actually problematic and inconsistent.
Asked if Davutoğlu still stood behind his own policies, the minister replied, “Certainly.” “Those who expect I will give up my truths will wait too long,” Davutoğlu said.
The minister said he still defended the “zero problems with neighbors” policy, and added that in the future Turkey would establish better relations with Syria and Iraq than today.
The minister reiterated that Turkey would do everything it could to prevent “terrorist” formations near its border with Syria that would threaten its national security.
“We reserve every right. ... No matter if it is Al-Qaeda
or the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK, we would consider it a matter of national security and take every measure,” he said.
The foreign minister said some suggested the entire north of Syria had fallen to the outlawed PKK.
“This is not the case... But, I cannot say there is no risk. Even if there is a 1 percent risk, we would take it seriously for the future of this country.”