Syria rebels withdraw totally from Salaheddin: FSA
BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
A handout tv grab released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on August 9, 2012 shows Syrian soldiers battling opposition forces in Aleppo's Salaheddin district on August 8, 2012. The Free Syrian Army staged a partial withdrawal on August 9, 2012 from Aleppo's embattled Salaheddin district, scene of fighting since July 20, a commander for the rebel fighters told AFP by phone. AFP PHOTO/HO/SANAThe rebel Free Syrian Army withdrew completely from the embattled district of Salaheddin in the northern city of Aleppo on Thursday as regime forces advanced, a rebel commander said.
"We have staged a tactical withdrawal from Salaheddin," Hossam Abu Mohammed told AFP by telephone. "The district is completely empty of rebel fighters. Regime forces are now advancing into Salaheddin." The rebels are still in streets near the key neighbourhood, said Abu Mohammed, who commands the Dara al-Shahbaa Brigade. "We are in the Saif al-Dawla and Mashhad districts" east of Salaheddin, he said.
He cited the violent bombardment by regime forces as the reason behind the FSA withdrawal.
"The artillery and aerial bombardments are very heavy, and they are targeting all rebel-held areas surrounding Salaheddin," said Abu Mohammed.
"The shelling of Salaheddin was so heavy that we have a clowd of dust above Salaheddin," he added.
Another FSA commander confirmed the pull-out.
"The FSA's brigades have staged a tactical withdrawal from Salaheddin in order to open a new front in Saif al-Dawla and Mashhad," said Wassel Ayub, who commands the Nur al-Haq Brigade.
"We had full control of the district last night, but then regime forces bombarded in an unprecedented way," Ayub said. "The situation is terrible, and we have decided to stage a tactical withdrawal." FSA spokesman Kassem Saadeddine said "he withdrawal from Salaheddin does not mean we are leaving Aleppo. We have military plans to fight in the city, but we cannot reveal them," he told AFP by Skype. Saadeddine also cited "the intensity of the bombings" as the cause behind the withdrawal.
In Damascus, a security source told AFP regime forces were advancing in the district. "The army is advancing quickly in Salaheddin towards Seif al-Dawla," the source said. "But the next big battle, which will be very fierce, will be in the (southeastern) Sukkari district." "For the battle in Salaheddin, the army used only 10 percent of the reinforcements sent" to Aleppo, the source said.
Regime forces deployed 20,000 troops as reinforcements to Aleppo in recent days.
Rebels and regime forces have engaged in fierce fighting over Salaheddin for more than two weeks. The rebels have claimed to control some 50 percent of Syria's commercial capital.
On Wednesday, regime forces launched a fierce assault on Salaheddin, a district to which both rebels and the regime attribute great symbolic importance.