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Fight for Aleppo Intensifies, Worries Grow About Possible Massacre

  • Meredith Buel

Syrians hold anti-government protest in Aleppo, Syria, July 27, 2012.

Syrians hold anti-government protest in Aleppo, Syria, July 27, 2012.

Fighting is intensifying between the Syrian government and rebel forces in the northern city of Aleppo, and U.S. officials are expressing concern the battle could turn into a massacre.
Syrian activists say government forces are using helicopter gunships to blast rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the nation’s commercial capital.

In amateur video that can’t be independently verified, warplanes can be seen roaring over the sky above the city.

Rebels are bracing for an all-out assault amid reports the army is massing tanks and reinforcements to retake the embattled city, home to more than 2.5 million people. Expressing concern about a possible massacre in Aleppo, the U.S. blames the Syrian government for the escalation in bloodshed.

“Who bears responsibility for the preponderance of violence in Syria? Who is the one who is using now fixed-wing aircraft against their own people - helicopters, artillery, gunships, et cetera? It is the Assad regime," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Syrian rebels have staged attacks in the country’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, in recent weeks.

Government soldiers have responded with overwhelming firepower, leading to some of the worst violence the cities have seen since the conflict began.

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Still, commanders in the Free Syrian Army, like Abdulaziz Salameh, are predicting victory.

“The fighters are now in Aleppo. They are steadfast and in two days, God willing, Aleppo will be under the control of this brigade, and other brigades are working with us and hand in hand we'll liberate Aleppo, God willing," said Salameh.

The Syrian government has been using tanks in populated civilian areas, while the rebels have been fighting mostly with lighter weapons.

Opposition fighters have captured guns, knives, ammunition and grenades from the Syrian military. And occasionally they even have been able to commandeer tanks.

Despite the government’s advantage in weapons, some Middle East analysts say international intervention is not necessary.

“The rebels are going to win,” said Ken Katzman, who is an analyst at the Congressional Research Service. “They almost won last week. They are very much about to win this thing without international help and I think that is much better for them because then they have more legitimacy.”

Since the beginning of the uprising, the Syrian government has sought to portray the opposition as dominated by al-Qaida, and the recent rise in violence has raised concerns the group is trying to join the revolution.

“The worry is these foreign fighters are going to be in Syria, Syria will be a failed state and they might start planning acts of terrorism in the West, in Europe, in the United States. That is the concern,” said Katzman.

Katzman said any al-Qaida affiliated fighters now in Syria are focused on the conflict there and are not planning attacks on the West.