Syria rebels vow to fight on in Aleppo

2012-08-10 21:04
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Aleppo - Syrian rebels vowed to fight on in Aleppo a day after being driven out of a key district under heavy shellfire by the army, which targeted other parts of the strategic city on Friday.

That came as world powers were preparing to name veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as their new envoy to seek a peaceful and politically workable end to a 17-month uprising that has cost more than 21 000 lives.

The exiled opposition said that Aleppo's historic citadel, part of a Unesco-listed world heritage site, had suffered damaged in the bombardment of rebel-held areas that has accompanied the army's ground offensive in Syria's commercial capital, now in its third day.

A rebel commander, Hossam Abu Mohammed, said his men were still fighting in parts of Aleppo's southwestern district of Salaheddin after most fled on Thursday in the face of heavy bombing and advancing troops.

"We will not let Salaheddin go," the Free Syrian Army's Abu Mohammed told AFP by telephone as the third day of a government offensive to take the city raged.

The army again bombed parts of Salaheddin, as well as the Sakhur and Hanano districts in the east of the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that the latest violence killed two civilians, among 11 killed nationwide.

Just before dawn, a MiG 21 fighter jet dropped four bombs on rebel positions in Hanano, an AFP correspondent reported.

One struck the courtyard of the FSA headquarters in the neighbourhood and another a nearby house, wounding a number of people.

Angry residents shouted hostile slogans against France and the United States, saying: "No one is helping us."

"We are behind the Free Syrian Army, but it is because of them that all of this is happening," one of them lamented.

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said Aleppo's 13th-century citadel, part of a complex of sites in the city's historic heart that the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation says is of "outstanding universal value" had been damaged in army shelling.

"Photographs by activists and archeological associations show that the Aleppo citadel... has been damaged," it said.

One photograph distributed by the group appeared to show damage to the citadel's entrance.

"The way in which the shell hit the main entrance of the fortress and broke the marble panel bearing its name suggests that the Syrian regime intentionally targeted the site," the SNC charged.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the opposition's claim of damage to the citadel.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory said the army had shelled the area around the fortress several times in recent days.

The state SANA news agency published photographs on Thursday of troops in control of the citadel. They showed no signs of damage.

Very difficult job

Meanwhile, diplomats at the United Nations said former Algerian foreign minister Brahimi was expected to be named as the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria.

Negotiations were still underway over the envoy's role and how the United Nations will operate in Syria amid the intensifying civil war. The mandate of the UN mission in the country ends on 20 August.

An official announcement of the 78-year-old's appointment is expected to be made early next week, diplomats said.

Brahimi was the UN envoy in Afghanistan after the 11 September 2001 attacks and in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Kofi Annan, a former UN secretary general, resigned from the post saying he had not received enough international support for his efforts to end the conflict but is staying on until 31 August.

US ambassador Susan Rice said Annan's successor faced a tough challenge reviving peace efforts.

"I think we have to be realistic that it is a very difficult job, and Kofi Annan did it admirably and found himself understandably frustrated at the end," she said.

Britain said it would give the rebels £5m in non-lethal assistance, including body armour and communications equipment for their fight against President Bashar Assad's regime.

"The people of Syria cannot wait indefinitely, people are dying. In the absence of diplomatic progress the UK will do much more," Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Hague said there were too many risks to provide weapons to the rebels at this stage, adding that it was difficult to know how they would be used and that there had been reports of atrocities by rebel forces.

He said Britain would give the rebels a "tough message that they must observe human rights standards, whatever horrors are perpetrated by the regime".

On the humanitarian front, the International Committee for the Red Cross said the Syrian Red Crescent had suspended most of its work in Aleppo because of the extreme danger, but that dozens of volunteers were still working.

A statement in Geneva said the ICRC had managed on Thursday to deliver food and other essential to cover the needs of at least 12 500 people in the city of some 2.7 million people.

Read more on:    william hague  |  bashar assad  |  syria  |  syria conflict  |  uprisings

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