CAIRO / NEW YORK – Syrian government forces continued their assault in the besieged commercial city of Aleppo Monday, after claiming the upper hand in fighting with outgunned and outmanned rebels.
Amateur video showed street battles raging in several key neighborhoods. Both the government and rebel fighters claimed to control the strategic Salaheddin district.
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, Abou Firas, told Alhurra TV that fighting is still going on in Salaheddin and that rebels control 60 percent of the city.
Firas said the rebels fought a bitter battle to capture the last government checkpoint on the road between Aleppo and the Turkish border at Anadin. He said the Aleppo countryside is free of government forces and that the road to Turkey is clear.
Inside Aleppo, government forces stepped up their shelling of rebel-held districts, using rockets, mortar rounds, field artillery and helicopter gunships.
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In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that he and envoy Kofi Annan are deeply concerned about the situation in Aleppo, especially the impact that shelling and heavy weapons are having on civilians.
Ban reminded all sides of their obligations under the international law, and urged them to exercise restraint and avoid any more bloodshed. He also called on the Syrian government to renounce the possibility of using weapons of mass destruction under any circumstances.
The U.N. reports that 200,000 residents have fled Aleppo in the last two days, and that conditions are harsh for those who remain behind.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said it is not known how many people remain trapped in places where fighting is continuing. She said the fighting is making it hard for aid workers to provide displaced residents with urgently needed food, mattresses, blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water.
New Syrian refugees look out from their bus as they arrive at a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli in Hatay province July 29, 2012.
Arab TV channels report thousands of people have crowded into schools and other makeshift shelters. There is no electricity or running water in many places. Bread and other foodstuffs are in short supply.
Syrian government forces continued to shell other towns and cities, including Dara'a in the south, Deir ez Zor in the east, and Homs, Rastan and Telbiseh north of the Lebanese border. Activists also said government forces raided homes and made arrests in suburbs of Damascus.
Syrian government forces continued to shell other towns and cities, including Dara'a in the south, Deir ez Zor in the east, and Homs, Rastan and Telbiseh north of Lebanon. Activists also say government forces raided homes and made arrests in suburbs of Damascus.
Government holds power
Syria analyst Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group said that despite some rebel successes in and around Aleppo, the government still remains a powerful military force.
"What we see is a regime which is a very potent force on the ground, but one which is not any longer able to wage the conflict nationwide and re-assert itself," he said.
"What we see is more an armed opposition coming to some measure of maturity, confronting the regime on its own turf in the large cities, but unable to defeat the regime, and on the other side a regime which is in no position any longer to corroborate its claim to nationwide sovereignty," he said.
France makes diplomatic push
In diplomatic developments, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose country is assuming the presidency of the U.N. Security Council, said in an interview Monday that Paris intends to call an emergency ministerial meeting of the Council to discuss Syria by week's end.
Fabius called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an "executioner," and echoed fears of a possible massacre voiced earlier by the United States, Britain and the United Nations.
The opposition Syrian National Council on Sunday urged the Security Council to hold an emergency session on the situation in Aleppo. The Security Council has voted three times on resolutions aimed at stopping the fighting in Syria. Russia and China, two of the five permanent members, have vetoed each measure.
Britain's Foreign Office said Syria's chief diplomat in London has defected, making him the latest in a series of top officials, including military officers, who have quit Assad's embattled government in recent weeks.
The foreign office said Monday that Charge D'affaires Khaled al-Ayoubi informed it that he would no longer represent Syria.
Yeranian reported from Cairo and Freund reported from U.N. headquarters in New York.