Heavy Fighting in Aleppo, Syria’s Largest City

Posted July 21st, 2012 at 12:35 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

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. Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Cairo.

The sounds of gunfire echoed in the streets of Syria's commercial capital Aleppo Saturday, 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 Syrian government troops have withdrawn from most, if not all border posts between Turkey and Syria, and Kurdish fighters control the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.

Meanwhile, an overnight fire damaged a major oil pipeline between Kirkuk in Iraq and the Turkish port city of Ceyhan. Turkish firefighters extinguished the blaze, but the pipeline remains offline. Turkish officials blame the Kurdish separatist PKK group of sabotaging the pipeline.

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.

Witnesses report that Free Syrian Army fighters recaptured the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of the capital. The camp reportedly changed hands several times in the past 48 hours. Government forces retook the nearby Damascus district of Midan on Friday.

Witnesses also reported 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. This tells us about the extent of the decay of the regime. 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 Two “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 Mr. Assad's neck.