BEIRUT - The Associated Press
Free Syrian Army soldiers are seen at the town of Azaz, some 32 kilometers north of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city. AP photo
Syrian government forces mounted new ground attacks against rebel-controlled neighborhoods in Syria’s commercial hub of Aleppo, the state media said yesterday, but failed to dislodge the opposition from their strongholds, according to activists.
The Syrian army has massed its forces around Aleppo, where rebels hold several neighborhoods after a 10-day offensive, and has been pounding it with tanks and helicopter gunships. There have also been periodic incursions of government tanks but the rebels have held on to their gains.Media reports ‘great losses’ upon rebels
Syrian state media reported late July 29 that the army had “purged” Aleppo’s southwestern neighborhood of Salaheddine and inflicted “great losses” upon the rebels in one of the first districts they took control of in their bid to seize the city. There was also a successful operation in Sukhour neighborhood, in the northeast of the city and another rebel stronghold, the state media said. Activists, however, disputed these claims and just described another day of fierce shelling of certain areas, backed up by the occasional foray on the ground.
“They have tanks in nearby Hamdaniya and there is fighting, and there have been random bombardments of Salaheddine,” said Mohammed Saeed, who is based in the embattled city.Fight for commercial hub
The government boosted its forces outside Aleppo and began an assault over the weekend to retake the commercial hub, bombarding rebel neighborhoods and leaving streets littered with rubble and empty apartment blocks with gaping smashed windows, according to videos of the city posted online in recent days.
This use of heavy weapons, particularly helicopters, is just another nail in President Bashar al-Assad’s coffin, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said late on July 29 during a stopover in Tunisia as he kicked off a Mideast tour expected to focus heavily on the unfolding crisis in Syria. Panetta said it is increasingly clear that the Syrian crisis is deepening and that Assad is hastening his own demise.
Already an estimated 200,000 civilians, almost 10 percent of the population, have fled the fighting in Aleppo, according to the U.N. official for humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos, citing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent.