News / Middle East

Battles Rage in Aleppo, Damascus

Syrian rebel fighters evacuate a wounded comrade during fighting with government troops in the old city of Aleppo, September 28, 2012.
Syrian rebel fighters evacuate a wounded comrade during fighting with government troops in the old city of Aleppo, September 28, 2012.
Edward YeranianJeff Seldin
Syrian government forces captured several rebel-held districts in the capital Damascus Friday, as the rebels went on the offensive against government troops in the northern city of Aleppo.

Rebel fighters clashed with government forces in at least a half dozen districts of Aleppo, on the second day of a rebel offensive. Witnesses say the rebels have been unable to gain much ground, and state TV claims heavy rebel casualties.

Rami Abd al-Rahman of the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that clashes in Aleppo have engulfed much of the city and that government forces are shelling the rebels to prevent them from advancing.

Al-Rahman said that parts of Aleppo are being shelled, amid clashes on front lines between rebel-held territory and districts held by the government. He said that especially heavy fighting is reported in a Kurdish district under government control.

In Damascus, government troops stormed three rebel-held districts amid heavy exchange of gunfire. Tanks and armored vehicles pushed into the areas as government troops searched houses, making arrests.

Heavy street fighting was also reported inside the eastern oasis town of Deir Ezzor for a second straight day. Amateur video showed rebel fighters trading fire with government troops along streets strewn with rubble and burned-out vehicles.

  • Damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo following months of clashes and battles between Syrian rebels and government forces, September 28, 2012.
  • A Syrian rebel fighter unloads an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) from a pick up during fighting with government troops in the old city of Aleppo, September 28, 2012.
  • Free Syrian Army fighter scans for targets from a building in Aleppo, Syria, September 27, 2012.
  • A member of the Free Syrian Army carries his wounded comrade who was shot during clashes with Syrian Army forces as others shout for help in Aleppo, Syria, September 27, 2012.
  • A Syrian man is comforted after the death of his brother, who witnesses say was shot by a Syrian Army sniper, outside Dar El Shifa Hospital in Aleppo, Syria, September 27, 2012.
  • A member of the Free Syrian Army open fire from his machine gun during clashes with Syrian Army forces in Aleppo, September 27, 2012.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters walk down stairs in a damaged building in Aleppo, Syria, September 26, 2012.

Apparent stalemate

Middle East analyst Timor Goksel, who teaches at the American University of Beirut, said that the military situation in Syria now appears to be at a stalemate.

"As long as one of the sides doesn't admit that they are hurting [and] nobody admits that he is hurting at the moment, so if the country is being destroyed, at one point somebody has to say 'that's enough, we have to stop this,' he said. "But, at the moment, nobody seems to be willing to say that. But, in the meantime, they are destroying their country.”

Goksel said that the government continues to “have the upper hand in firepower and in the air,” so it is “not going to lose the battle on the ground,” while the rebels now appear to be “better armed and slightly better organized.”

Protests against the government were also reported after Friday prayers in the northern town of Binesh, and at least a dozen other Syrian towns and cities.

Chemical weapons vulnerable

During a briefing at the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said there is evidence the Syrians are worried some of their chemical weapons might be vulnerable.

"There has been some intelligence, that in regards to some of these sights, that there has been some movement for the Syrians to better secure the chemicals," he said.

Panetta said Friday the major chemical weapon stockpiles appeared to be intact, but that concerns remain.

"But as to the movement of some of these materials and whether or not they've been exposed to possession by the opposition or others, that's something I don't really have firm information on," he said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations human rights council Friday expressed renewed concern about abuses by both government and rebel forces, extending the mandate of its war crimes inquiry by six months.

The U.S. ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, says the situation in Syria is dire.

"Assad continues to cling to power and his campaign of brutality has sparked a deepening humanitarian crisis," she said. "We cannot afford to be silent."

The council also appears poised to take an even harder line against the abuses in preparation for potential war crimes trials. 

The human rights body Friday named renowned former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte to the investigative team.

The investigation has already interviewed more than 1,000 victims, refugees and defectors but has not been granted access to Syria itself.

Also Friday, selected members of the Friends of Syria group is scheduled to meet in New York, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  It will include ministers from more than 20 nations and representatives from local revolutionary councils.

A senior State Department official said the meeting, which takes place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, will focus on support to the Syrian opposition, humanitarian assistance and international pressure on the Syrian regime.

The official says the discussions will include unilateral measures which can be taken against the regime including the possibility of sanctions.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 29, 2012 11:53 AM
When people go on strike in demand for something they want their country to do for them, they also step down after a lull to give the government time to address issues raised. Why is all the call going to the regime government to step down while the opposition receive no such demand to back down? It is not right to sack Assad government just like that, after all they are civil servants also in need of their daily bread, why ask them to step down without proper bargain? It's not good. Let the opposition back down, allow the government to evaluate the journey so far, and decide which direction to move. Assad and his regime maybe held by pride and the shame of being pushed away just like that. Give them a breather, maybe they will do the right thing. But the opposition still lacks identity and manifesto, and the people are afraid to hand over their destiny to an extremist jihadist posing as a liberator who will turn round to devour them when the battle is won. Let us understand that these people fighting the Assad regime are not friends of the Syrian people, they are simply jihadists!

by: Ken from: UK
September 28, 2012 11:11 AM
Really??? we are not surprised... fortunately the world begins to realize that Arabs are Arabs... they all share the same destructive mentality... Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestinians- the only redeeming virtue is that they are suicidal... and we should thank their Allah for that...

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