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Syria: rebels retreat from Aleppo stronghold

Published: August 8, 2012 | 8:28 am
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Syrian rebels have pulled back from their positions in their Aleppo stronghold of Salaheddin in face of an onslaught “without respite” from the Assad regime.

According to both regime and rebel sources, the Syrian army has taken the district in a major blow for insurgents.
Reuters reported from Aleppo on Wednesday morning that Syrian rebels had abandoned their positions in a district that has been a frontline of fighting in recent days.
“We have retreated, get out of here,” rebels told reporters.
The news agency reported that a checkpoint that had been manned by rebel fighters for the last week had disappeared.
A Syrian government security source told Lebanon’s Al-Manar television that Syrian forces were now in control of the Salaheddin district.

New satellite images have shown the impact of the Syrian regime’s intensified bombardment of Aleppo the day after Bashar al-Assad pledged to crush Syria’s rebels “without respite”.

President Assad used a rare television appearance on Tuesday to dismiss high-level defections from his regime and to vow that he would cleanse Syria of insurgents.

“The Syrian people and their government are determined to purge the country of terrorists and to fight the terrorists without respite,” he said.

Satellite images released on Wednesday reveal the extent of the Assad regime’s war on rebels who control most of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial centre.
But despite the onslaught the Free Syrian Army on Tuesday claimed to be holding up the regime’s advance at the end of a day marked by intense fighting on the front line and shelling of rebel-occupied areas.

Amnesty International said that analysis of images from Anadan, a small town near Aleppo, revealed more than 600 probable artillery impact craters a residential housing complex from the fierce fighting over the north western city.

The human rights group is concerned that Assad’s deployment of heavy weaponry in residential areas will lead to further human rights abuses and grave breaches of international law.

“Any attacks against civilians will be clearly documented so that those responsible can be held accountable,” said Christoph Koettl, an Amnesty spokesman.

“The Syrian military and the opposition fighters must both adhere to international humanitarian law, which strictly forbids the use of tactics and weapons that fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets.”

Over the weekend the Syrian military has stepped up shelling and air strikes while completing the build-up around Aleppo of 20,000 troops in readiness for a decisive battle over the coming days.

The head of the UN observer mission in Syria, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, has voiced concern for civilians trapped in the fighting in the city of some 2.7 million people.

Rebels say they control around half of the city.

In Aleppo, clashes rocked several central areas of the city while the army also shelled rebel-held areas in the east, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The fighting in and around Aleppo killed at least 20 people, the watchdog said, adding that the nationwide toll was 122 on Tuesday.

Near Homs in central Syria, opposition gunmen attacked an electricity company housing compound, killing 16 people, including Alawites, Christians and Sunnis, the Observatory said.

And rebels attacked an oil field in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, triggering clashes in which four rebels and six soldiers were killed, it added.

Riad Hijab, Syria’s former Prime Minister, who defected from the regime to the rebels on Monday has gone to Jordan in a move that was widely seen as a sign that the Assad regime is crumbling.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said last night that Assad might make a “worst case scenario” retreat to an Alawite stronghold if he falls from power.

Experts have predicted that if Damascus falls to rebels, Assad could take refuge among Alawites in the north eastern mountains of Syria, where opposition forces say he has already been stockpiling weapons.

“I have a feeling that if he can’t rule Greater Syria, then maybe an Alawi enclave is Plan B,” King Abdullah said in an interview with US television network CBS.

“That would be, I think for us, the worst case scenario – because that means then the break up of Greater Syria.

“That means that everybody starts land grabbing which makes no sense to me. If Syria then implodes on itself that would create problems that would take decades for us to come back from.”

King Abdullah predicted Assad would keep up his brutal crackdown to cling to power because he “believes that he is in the right”.

“In his mentality, he is going to stick to his guns… I think the regime feels that it has no alternative, but to continue… I don’t think it’s just Bashar. It’s not the individual. It’s the system of the regime,” he said.


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