News24

Syria sends armoured column to Aleppo

2012-07-25 07:39

Amman/ Beirut - Syria sent thousands of troops surging towards Aleppo in the early hours of Wednesday, where its forces have been pounding rebel fighters from the air, engulfing the country's largest city in total warfare to put down a revolt.

Recent days have seen Syria's 16-month-old uprising transformed from an insurgency in remote provinces into a battle for control of the two main cities, Aleppo and the slightly smaller capital, Damascus, where fighting exploded last week.

President Bashar Assad's forces have launched massive counter assaults in both cities. They appear to have beaten rebels back from neighbourhoods in the capital and are turning towards Aleppo, a commercial hub in the north.

Syrian forces fired artillery and rocket barrages early on Wednesday at the northern Damascus suburb of al-Tel in an attempt to seize the town from rebels, causing mass panic and forcing hundreds of families to flee the area, residents and opposition activists said.

The 216th mechanised battalion headquartered near Tel started bombarding the town of about 100 000 people at 03:15 (local time) and initial reports indicated residential apartment blocks were being hit, they said.

"Military helicopters are flying now over the town. People were awakened by the sound of explosions and are running away," Rafe Alam, one of the activists, said by phone from a hill overlooking Tel. "Electricity and telephones have been cut off."

Rocket fire

Opposition activists said thousands of troops had withdrawn with their tanks and armoured vehicles from the strategic Jabal al-Zawiya highlands in Idlib province near the Turkish border and were headed towards Aleppo.

Rebels attacked the rear of the troops withdrawing from the region at the villages of Orom al-Joz and rami near the main Aleppo-Latakia road and at the village of al-Bara west of the Aleppo-Damascus highway, activist Abdelrahman Bakran said from the area.

In Aleppo, helicopters swirled overhead firing missiles throughout Tuesday, residents said. Rebels were battling government forces by the gates of the historic old city. Troops fired mortars and shells at rebels armed with rifles and machineguns.

"I heard at least 20 rockets fired, I think from helicopters, and also a lot of machinegun fire," a resident near one of the areas being shelled, who asked to be identified only by his first name Omar, said by telephone.

"Almost everyone has fled in panic, even my family. I have stayed to try to stop the looters; we hear they often come after an area is shelled."

Residents said fixed-wing jets had also flown over the city, followed by loud noises, although there were contradictory reports as to whether they had fired.

New, violent phase

Some residents said they believed the aircraft had dropped bombs, but others said booming sounds could have been caused by supersonic jets breaking the sound barrier. A correspondent for Britain's BBC television said the jets had fired.

Assad's forces have occasionally launched air strikes from fixed-wing jets on other cities during the uprising, but tend to rely on helicopters for air strikes in urban areas.

The 16-month-old uprising has entered a new and far more violent phase in the past 10 days since rebels poured into Damascus in large numbers.

Last Wednesday, an explosion killed four members of Assad's closest circle inside a security headquarters, a blow that wiped out much of the top echelon of his military command structure and shattered the reputation for invulnerability that his family has held since his father seized power in a 1970 coup.

Western powers have been calling for Assad to be removed from power for many months, and now say they believe his days are numbered. But they fear that he will fight to the bitter end, raising the risk of sectarian warfare spreading across one of the world's most volatile regions.

Syria raised the alarm even further on Monday by confirming that it had chemical and biological weapons. In a statement that may have been intended to reassure the world but seemed to have the opposite effect, it said it would not use poison gas against rebels, only against external threats.

Accountability


Assad's international protector Russia added its voice on Tuesday to those of Western countries warning him not to use chemical weapons.

Western diplomats said Russia may have pressed Syria to make Monday's statement after the United States and Israel openly discussed their worries about chemical weapons.

US President Barack Obama said the world would hold Assad and his entourage accountable "should they make the tragic mistake of using those [chemical] weapons".

Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, a member of Assad's inner circle who fled Syria this month, appeared on al Arabiya television in his first public comments since defecting. He called on troops to abandon the government.

"I address you ... as one of the Syrian Arab Army's sons who reject the criminal behaviour of this corrupt regime. The honourable people in the military would not accept these crimes," he said on al-Arabiya television.

Tlas is a member of the Sunni Muslim majority, and his defection was seen as a sign that the Sunni establishment had abandoned Assad, a member of the Alawite minority sect.

Tragedy

Elsewhere in the country, activists said government troops and pro-Assad militia known as shabbiha had attacked a mosque in a village northwest of the city of Hama.

"Troops and shabbiha left the roadblock on the edge of Shariaa and crossed the main road and began firing automatic rifles on the worshippers as they were entering the mosque," activist Jamil al-Hamwi said by telephone from the area.

"We have confirmed the names for 15 bodies and it is estimated there is a similar number still to be collected from the streets," said Hamwi, who uses a pseudonym for security reasons. The account, like others from activists, could not be confirmed. Syria restricts access by international journalists.

At least nine people were killed in army shelling of al-Herak, a town south of Deraa, the cradle of the revolt against more than four decades of Assad family rule, activists said.

Video posted on the internet showed the shattered bodies of a veiled woman and six children in colourful pyjamas, some of them very young. Four lay on one doctor's table.

In Damascus, troops were trying to snuff out rebel resistance in several areas, including Barzeh, near the centre, and the southern districts of Hajar al-Aswad, Asali and Qadam.

Israeli fears


Tanks prowled the streets of Midan, a neighbourhood recaptured by the army from rebels on Friday.

Assad reshuffled his security team on Tuesday, according to a Lebanese security source. He said Ali Mamlouk had been named intelligence chief in place of Hisham Bekhtyar, one of four top Assad security aides killed in last week's blast.

Israel, which has publicly discussed military action to keep Syrian chemical arms or missiles out the hands of Assad's Lebanese militant allies Hezbollah, said there was no sign any such diversion had occurred.

"At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime," a senior Israeli defence official, Amos Gilad, told Israel Rad

Comments
  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-25 08:02

    Is war impossible!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-25 13:20

      ?

  • AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-25 08:08

    And than some dumb nuts, are still suggesting that the ,rebels, aka OPPOSITION, should lay down their arms and sit around a table with these assad terrorists. There is more chance, that Eugene Terreblanche wakes up and becomes the new president of SA , than that will ever happen!! Only ONE solution; the removal of these assads, and by force !!

      Greg - 2012-07-25 08:28

      So who's going to take over Syria when Assad is gone? Al-Qa'ida? Shia Extremists? You do realise this war is over religious factions right? You do know that this has nothing at all to do with democracy? Educate yourself bro, and I don't mean by reading news articles.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-25 08:41

      Greg, You are using the same scare tactics that the Nats used, and the same ones that all these radicals used to ,warn, about, re the future of Egypt and Libya. Well here in SA, there is no communists under your bed, and Egypt and Libya are doing pretty ok, in their first steps to democracy, since their scumbags dissapeared. So, maybe it is time you gave some credit to the Syrian population !! And it is not a matter of how much you educate yourself, as that what you have, to apply it properly. Just look at Fidel, she has read 3786 books, and is still stuck with "Real politic"...!!

      devon.riley.52 - 2012-07-25 08:45

      Well Asad has promised cease fire after cease fire. I am sure America and the UK are gatvol of playing military policemen, but I must say I wouldn't mind seeing Asad being awarded the sam fate as Qadaffi.

      Greg - 2012-07-25 08:56

      "So, maybe it is time you gave some credit to the Syrian population !!" Assad is protecting his population from immigrants and religious fanatics wanting to take POWER. How can you say these people are democratic when they refuse to have open dialogue with the opposition? What happens when "they" come to power, and political opposition creeps up? Answer me this.. Why is Dictatorship OK for Suadi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain but not for Syria? Do some research on how Bahrain treats its people. You don't see the MSM promoting so called "Democracy" for them do you? The people who protest in those countries get treated worse then those in Syria as their Governments are run by Shea Law. You don't see the west promoting democracy in those countries do you? So essentially you are a hypocrite. You support the so called "friends of Syria", who themselves are dictatorships and are actually Syria's enemies for trying to over throw their government and replace it with one that's run by religion. (Shea Law) By the sound of your comments, you are just an ignorant closed minded sheep regurgitating what the BS the mainstream media says about Syria. Thank God for Russia and China. They have prevented or at least postponed a WW3 type situation.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-25 09:10

      @Anthony I don't know what I would do without your immensely mature, and well thought contributions.

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-07-25 09:59

      Assad is not protecting the population , he is protecting his population . Of course , if you consider shelling neighbourhoods with artillary protection then ok . Religous fanatisism is pervasive in the middle east and we are yet to see migration from other coutries to Syria , the opposite is the case with refugees flooding turkey in perticular .Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain are monarchies , a subtle difference but democracy is promoted in these countries . Bahrain has started to make reforms , not as fast as would be liked but far more prefereable than a Syria situation . Internal support for democracy and reforms are also important so you can't use the same tools for every country . It has little to do with Shia or Sunni preference.What happens if Assad falls and 'they' come into power. Firstly there is no need to believe there will be mass slaughter and nothing compared to whats happening now under Assad 'protection'. As with other examples , transitional governance and unity goverment will be instituted along with international assistance ,where and how they choose, towards a democratic election and a constitutation.These questions have already been addressed and debated in various forums. I don't consider this fear of the unknown a concern enough to hold onto dictators. Either you support the democratic reforms and wishes of people under dictators and then debate the means of achieving this or you don't but you can't support dictators in power and then shout democracy

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-25 10:02

      Greg, A long story, with little substance !! , But let me try to respond !! ""Assad is protecting his population from immigrants and religious fanatics wanting to take POWER"" You just make this up. No one; the UN, the UN observers on the ground, Amnesty International, HRW, the Red Cross, NOT EVEN the Russians, are talking about immigrants or 'religious fanatics' EXCEPT YOU !!! ""What happens when "they" come to power, and political opposition creeps up?"" Have a good look at Egypt and libya !!! ""Why is Dictatorship OK for Suadi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain but not for Syria"" WHO says that dictatorships in other ME countries is ok ?? Certainly not me !! The rest of your comment; you are throwing insults at me; Ask your friend Fidel, when one has no valuable contra argument, the dumb , ignorant and stupid, go over to insults !!!!

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-25 10:45

      To see the mote in another's eye and not the beam in one's own. You are an incorrigible wretch who's too stupid to even realise what you really are.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-25 13:01

      Are we not soo fortunate to have this Fidel amongst us, who will teach the 'dumb masses' what life is really about !! But maybe it would be better to come back when you start reading about events in 2012, in the meantime you are stuck with the "Berlin Wall" !!!

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-25 13:49

      I do not counter rhetoric. I recognise futility in conversing with you, so sue me that your head is stuck so far up your azz I would rather verbally insult you than to give you more respect than you deserve.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-25 16:51

      Grge, it's not for you our Assad to decide who "takes over Syria". It's up to the Syrian people.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-25 16:51

      Greg, it's not for you or Assad to decide who "takes over Syria". It's up to the Syrian people.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-25 18:44

      I would have liked to have deleted my comment of this morning 08.08, not because of some 'thumbs down, but on second thoughts, not ok , to bring ET into this comment. My apology if I offended anyone. To have deleted this comment, would have also deleted 12 other comments !!

  • tshekiso.saul - 2012-07-25 08:10

    This President has seemingly gone too far and the west as it stands is afraid of chemical weapons. And by the way y is it that we only see reports on actions of Syria r the rebels not rebelling enough for us to see reporting on their fighting. It is as if Assad is fighting a wall. Pathetic reporting as always.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-25 08:58

      Objective analysis is impossible in this age of wars of self interest. I feel sorry for the ordinary Syrians.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-25 09:52

      ""I feel sorry for the ordinary Syrians"" Excuse me.........You don'et even feel sorry for the starving and sick fellow Africans , so please.....................Don't come with your sob story about Syrians !!!

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-07-25 10:51

      Maybe you should start drinking a little bit later?

      gerhard.kress.3 - 2012-07-25 11:49

      Fidel is a representative of Darkest Africa.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-25 13:23

      Objective analysis is impossible for Fidel, with his immature anti-West core belief that he blinds himself with. He says these words and posts them, without realizing it's a message he is trying to give to himself.

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