Reuters reports: Syrian rebels aim to push towards central Aleppo, capturing the country’s biggest city within days despite being outgunned by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, a local rebel commander said.
Colonel Abdel-Jabbar al-Oqaidi, who defected from the Syrian army six months ago, told Reuters government troops had tried for three days to capture the south-western Aleppo neighbourhood of Salaheddine, and Assad’s soldiers were increasingly demoralised.
The fight for Syria’s second city has become the focus of the 16-month-old rebellion against Assad, with rebel fighters confronting government forces backed by artillery and helicopter gunships.
“We don’t have goals for the coming months. We have goals for the coming days. Within days, God willing, Aleppo will be liberated,” said Oqaidi, dressed in green camouflage uniform at an Aleppo school which has been turned into a rebel base.
Describing the growing conflict which has engulfed Aleppo in the last few days as “street war”, he said the rebel aim was to capture districts one by one and establish control over them, before taking more territory from the army.
“We secure our areas and then move to other neighbourhoods, pushing towards the city centre,” he said, speaking in an interview late on Monday. “God willing, we will liberate Aleppo and its military and security sites.”
“The regime’s capabilities are also being weakened. They can shell us from afar with tanks and helicopters. But inside their morale is zero,” said Oqaidi, head of the Joint Military Council, one of several rebel groups in Aleppo.
An unidentified Syrian army officer told state television on Sunday that his forces had recaptured Salaheddine, which lies on the south-western entrance to Aleppo, and the rest of the city would be under government control within days.
But on Tuesday Syrian television said the army was still chasing what it called “armed terrorists” in Salaheddine.
“The regime has tried for three days to recapture Salaheddine but its attempts have failed and it has suffered heavy losses in human life, weapons and tanks. It has been forced to withdraw,” Oqaidi said.
AFP reports: Syrian rebels attacked key military targets and overran two police stations in Aleppo, killing 40 officers, a watchdog said, as the pivotal battle for the commercial capital raged on Tuesday.
Clashes between the rebels and loyalists of President Bashar al-Assad were also reported in the capital Damascus, the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and Daraa in the south, cradle of the more than 16-month uprising.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Aleppo was on Tuesday rocked by the fiercest fighting of a military offensive on rebels in the city, which came after the government had warned of a looming “mother of all battles.”
Rebels used rocket-propelled grenades in pre-dawn attacks on a military court, an air force intelligence headquarters and a branch of the ruling Baath Party in Aleppo, said the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman.
Later, “hundreds of rebels attacked the police stations in Salhin and Bab al-Nayrab (neighbourhoods) and at least 40 policemen were killed during the fighting, which lasted for hours,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The police chief was among those killed at the Salhin station in the south of the city, while three vehicles were destroyed, he added.
The attacks came as the UN observer mission said government forces were using helicopters, tanks and artillery to fight the rebels, while appealing for both sides to protect civilians in the city of 2.7 million people.
Through the night, government troops had shelled the neighbourhoods of Salaheddin, Marjeh, Firdoss, Al-Mashhad, Sakhur, Al-Shaar and Ansari, before the army and rebels clashed at dawn in Al-Meesr and Al-Adaa.
A security official in Damascus told AFP on Monday that the army had regained some of Salaheddin but it was facing “a very strong resistance.” The rebels, however, denied that the army had advanced even “one metre” (yard).
“The fierce fighting in Aleppo shows how crucial this city is for a regime that does not want a Benghazi in Syria,” said Abdel Rahman, referring to the coastal city secured by Libyan rebels as a base in their fight to bring down strongman Moamer Kadhafi.