The battle for Aleppo

As a major battle is being faught between regime forces and rebels over Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, GlobalPost reports: Travelling the road into Aleppo from Idlib, GlobalPost saw dozens of burned out tanks and armored vehicles, suggesting rebel fighters were attempting to target the government troops before they entered the city.

But for every crippled tank or Armored Personnel Carrier, another one rumbled by, carried by a convoy of military trucks heading to Aleppo from Homs, Hama and Idlib, as the regime masses its forces for its looming assault on the ancient city.

Today, Aleppo’s labyrinth of cobbled markets, scented with cardamom and coffee, where pearls and gold and woodwork have been bought and sold since the history books began, stand shuttered and silent. The 13th-century citadel — a UNESCO world heritage site — awaits its likely fate as a barracks against the bombs.

“All Aleppo’s businessmen want a solution and today we see this solution without President Assad,” said Abu Omar, a local factory-owner, a member of the Sunni merchant class who for so long kept Aleppo quiet, hoping their long alliance with the regime would keep them open for business.

Today, with Turkey closing its border to all trade and the roads to Iraq and Damascus too dangerous to transport goods along, Abu Omar said he knew of “dozens” of industrialists who had once paid the regime’s militias to attack protesters, but who were now paying the armed rebels of the Free Syria Army.

“They want to speed up the collapse of the regime. Sooner or later Assad is finished, but sooner is better,” he said. The switch in allegiances also followed a series of kidnappings by rebels of wealthy Aleppan businessmen and their relatives and the torching of several large factories, he said.

As regime forces begin launching bombardments on Aleppo from above, injuries from the attacks are already overwhelming city hospitals.

“We are taking in four times our capacity of patients, but what else can we do?” said a doctor at the state-run Al Razi Hospital, Aleppo’s largest. “We have hundreds of seriously wounded residents, old people, women and children.”

As in Damascus, much of the hospital staff was unable to reach work due to the attacks and the absence of public transport, said the doctor, who added that he was fast running out of blood bags.

“We asked the government to send more help but got no answer. On the contrary, the Ministry of Health has increased the price of a bag of blood from 1,200 Syrian Pound ($17) to 3,500 ($50),” he said. “I am calling all people of Aleppo to come and donate blood to help injured civilians.” [Continue reading…]

The Independent reports: Fighting centred around the south-western neighbourhood of Salaheddine [on Saturday], one of the first areas seized by the rebels after they were routed from the capital, Damascus. Activists said helicopters strafed the area and rebels faced artillery barrages and tanks.

Mohammed Saeed, an Aleppo-based activist, said the government counterattack had begun and rebels were fighting back. “Thanks be to God, they haven’t succeeded in entering any of the neighbourhoods yet,” he said.

Though Western media is largely unable to gain access to the areas held by rebels, the BBC reported a heavily artillery bombardment could be heard throughout Aleppo, and there were reports of heavy casualties.

An emergency call went out to doctors to help. It said there had been constant shelling and mortar rounds all day, together with weapons fire from helicopters. A steady stream of vehicles has been heading out of the city carrying hundreds of families trying to escape the violence and deteriorating conditions.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are massed outside the city. Mr Saeed said rebels from around the country have also been pouring in to help defend the areas under their control. “About 1,000 fighters have come from the Free Syrian Army from outside the province to help,” he said.

State television reported that government forces had inflicted heavy losses on groups of terrorists, the term the regime uses for the rebels. The pro-government daily newspaper Al-Watan called it “the mother of all battles”.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the government attack started before dawn with the bombardment of several areas, followed by the movement of armoured vehicles backed by attack helicopters. Based on reports from contacts on the ground, SOHR reported attacks in the north-eastern area of Sakhour as well as other areas, and said the rebels had disabled a number of the regime’s armoured vehicles. [Continue reading…]

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