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Syrian opposition: Areas of Aleppo see heaviest violence in 16 months

Published: July 28, 2012 | 8:23 am
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Parts of Syria’s largest city saw the fiercest clashes yet in the country’s 16-month crisis on Saturday, opposition activists said.
“Nonstop shelling” by the regime’s army killed at least two people in Aleppo on Saturday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
Across the country, at least nine people were killed early Saturday, the LCC said.
As the battle for Aleppo rages on, regime forces are preventing fuel and food from entering neighborhoods controlled by rebel fighters, opposition activists said.
“They are besieging our area,” said Abu Omar, a resident of the Salaheddin neighorhood. “There is no electricity in some parts, and food is scarce.”
Regime and rebel fighters have clashed in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub, for more than a week. But Malik Kurdi, deputy commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said Friday that both sides are preparing for a bigger confrontation the regime is calling “the mother of all battles.”
The huge urban center resembles a “ghost town” in many areas, with only fighters on the streets, Kurdi said.
“People are fleeing the city towards the countryside. I think they are sensing that a huge battle is about to take place, a decisive one,” Kurdi said.
The former head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria said “it’s only a matter of time before this regime will fall” and “time is on the side of the rebels.”
“It can take a lot of time or it can go quickly, it’s impossible to say. … It is a cycle of violence,” Maj. Gen. Robert Mood said. “Sooner or later we will reach a climax with the fall of the regime,” he told CNN.
On Friday, The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported a “horrific massacre” in the city’s Fardos district, where regime forces indiscriminately shelled homes.
Syrian state TV, meanwhile, said that “special security authorities” destroyed five pickup vehicles equipped with machine guns used by “terrorists” in the Aleppo countryside. State TV reported casualties from the vehicles.
At least 15 of the 100 people slain across Syria on Friday were from Aleppo province, the LCC said.
World leaders urged President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to stop its assault.
“I urge the Syrian government to halt their offensive,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday. “The violence from both sides must stop for the sake of the suffering civilians of Syria.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the developments in Aleppo “really worrisome,” saying the use of heavy weapons and air forces on such a civilian hub would constitute “an international crime, clearly.”
Iran, meanwhile, emphasized its support for al-Assad’s government. Its energy minister, Majid Namjou, vowed his government “will not leave Syria alone in such a difficult situation,” according the state-run Press TV.
The report said the two nations signed a deal Thursday to expand sharing of electricity and water, with Namjou saying Iranian firms are ready to rebuild damaged power plant facilities. Iran plans to export at least 250 million watts of electricity, and Iranian companies “to produce and supply industrial equipment needed in the Arab country,” according to the energy minister.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, have increased contacts with the Syrian opposition in recent weeks, a senior U.S. official said Friday.
“The U.S. and others are playing more of an advisory role to the opposition now,” the official said.
But U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Friday he’s not aware of any discussions about giving the opposition any “lethal support.”
The rebels are composed largely of soldiers who have defected from the Syrian military. But many civilians — including students, shopkeepers, real-estate agents and members of the president’s ruling Baath party — also are trying to end four decades of Assad family rule.
They are gearing up for a fight.
Rebel commander Mustafa Abdullah, told CNN that rebels have set up medical clinics in Aleppo homes and have plans to transport and evacuate anyone who is wounded.
“They (government forces) want to surround Aleppo completely and send support from all sides, then start shelling rebel-controlled areas and hospitals,” Abdullah said.
Abdullah, the rebel commander in Aleppo, recalled the merciless government bombardment of the city of Homs this year as he geared up for battle. Asked if these fighters had enough ammunition to withstand a government siege, Abdullah simply said, “no.” He then added, “It will be just like Homs” and wept at the thought.
The Aleppo fighting has hit home politically.
A Syrian parliamentarian from Aleppo has defected to Turkey, according to the opposition Syrian National Council. Ikhlas Badawi is the first member of the assembly elected in May to defect and the latest in a series of high-profile officials to cut ties with the regime. This follows defections by high-level Syrian diplomats to the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus and Iraq.
“I call on all of my colleagues to join this revolution and defend their rights to stand up for the free across all of our society’s sects,” he told reporters Friday in Antakya, Turkey. “I also call on members of the Syrian army to honor their word and defend our country, not just one ruling family.”
The LCC says more than 16,000 people have been killed since the Syrian crisis erupted in March 2011. The U.N. secretary-general said this week that almost 17,000 people have died.

CNN

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