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Syria Fighting Spreads to Aleppo

  • Edward Yeranian

A burned tank belonging to government forces is seen in Azzaz, Aleppo province, Syria July 19, 2012.

A burned tank belonging to government forces is seen in Azzaz, Aleppo province, Syria July 19, 2012.

CAIRO — Witnesses report heavy fighting Saturday in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, along with more clashes and shelling in the capital, Damascus. Government troops continue to try and claw back territory lost to rebel fighters in recent days, shelling other major towns and cities, but with limited success.

The sounds of gunfire echoed in the streets of Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, amid off-and-on gun battles between rebels and government loyalists. Witnesses say rebel Free Syrian Army fighters now have a strong presence inside the city and have set up some checkpoints.

Rebel fighters also control the main border post between Turkey and Syria, giving them free access to munitions and other supplies. Syrian government troops have withdrawn from most, if not all border posts between Turkey and Syria, and Kurdish fighters control the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.

Witnesses reported heavy government shelling and firefights in Homs and the nearby towns of Talbiseh and Rastan. Fighting was also reported in other areas close to Lebanon's northern border.

Free Syrian Army fighters recaptured the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of the capital, Damascus, witnesses said. The camp reportedly changed hands several times in the past 48 hours.

Residents carry the coffin of Muhammad Mousa, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, during his funeral in Yabroud near Damascus July 21, 2012.

Residents carry the coffin of Muhammad Mousa, whom protesters say was killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, during his funeral in Yabroud near Damascus July 21, 2012.

On Friday, government forces retook the nearby Damascus district of Midan.

There were also reports of scattered fighting in the key Damascus districts of Mazzeh, Barzeh and Qaboun. Amateur video showed helicopter gunships strafing parts of the capital.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, pointed out that the government's jubilation over recapturing one district in the capital underscores the extent to which the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is disintegrating.

"It has now reached the point where they celebrate and rejoice over taking over one section of the capital," Khashan said. "We are witnessing the last few days of the regime. The regime is not dying with grace, it's dying with indignity."

Khashan compared the battle for Damascus to the World War II “Battle of the Bulge,” in which the German Army briefly recaptured territory in France and Belgium before eventually being driven back into Germany.

Al Jazeera television reported that rebel fighters captured a border post with Jordan, but the news was impossible to confirm independently. The main Boukamel border post between Syria and Iraq was also closed on the Iraqi side, and Iraqi officials said no refugees would be allowed in.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged President Assad to “hand over power, sooner rather than later.” He also promised new European Union sanctions against Syria in the coming days, in order to “tighten the noose” around Assad's neck.

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