Sunday Times 2

Military helicopters pound Aleppo as onslaught looms


AZAZ, Syria, July 28 (Reuters) Military helicopters pounded a rebel-held district of Aleppo on Saturday and armoured units positioned themselves for an onslaught that could determine the fate of Syria’s biggest city, opposition sources said.
Turkey, once a friend but now a fierce critic of the Syrian government, joined growing diplomatic pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, calling for international steps to deal with the military build-up.

Syrian rebels hunt for snipers after attacking the municipality building near Aleppo (AFP)

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group which collects information on the 16-month-old uprising against Assad, reported helicopter attacks on the central Salaheddine district of Aleppo and fighting elsewhere in the city.“Helicopters are participating in clashes at the entrance of

Salaheddine district and bombarding it,” the group said in an emailed statement. “There are also violent clashes at the entrances to Sakhour district.” One opposition activist said he had seen Syrian tanks andarmoured carriers heading for Salaheddine.

The battle for the city of 2.5 million people is seen as acrucial test for a government that has committed major military resources to retaining control of its two main power centres, Aleppo and the capital Damascus, in the face of a growing insurgency.

While neither side has managed to gain the upper hand, the outcome of the uprising is being watched anxiously in the region and beyond, amid fears that sectarian unrest could spread to volatile neighbouring countries.
Military experts believe that while Assad’s more powerful military will overcome the rebels in Aleppo and other major cities, it risks loss of control in the countryside because the loyalty of large sections of the army is in doubt.

“Assad’s forces are likely to achieve a tactical victory that will represent a setback to opposition forces and allows the regime to demonstrate its military dominance,” said analyst Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group, adding however that the rebels were getting stronger while the military was on the wane. Three rebel fighters were killed in clashes before dawn on
Saturday in Aleppo, the Observatory said. It said 160 people were reported killed in Syria on Friday, adding to an overall death toll of around 18,000 since the uprising began.

Video footage provided by the Observatory showed smoke rising over apartment blocks in the city into a hazy sky on Saturday. The sound of sporadic gunfire could be clearly heard.While attention has focussed on Aleppo, fighting was also reported in towns across Syria: Deraaa, the cradle of the revolution, Homs, the scene of some of the bloodiest combat, and Hama, where a revolt against Assad’s father in the early 1980s was suppressed with thousands of deaths.
At least 10 people were killed on Saturday when Syrian security forces went into Maadameyat al-Sham near Damascus, the observatory said.


Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said late on Friday that international institutions needed to work together to address the military assault on Aleppo and Assad’s threat to use chemical weapons against external enemies. “There is a build-up in Aleppo, and the recent statements with respect to the use of weapons of mass destruction are actions that we cannot remain an observer or spectator to,” he said at a news conference in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“Steps need to be taken jointly within the United Nations Security Council, the Organisation of Islamic Countries, the Arab League, and we must work together to try to overcome the situation,” he said.

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