Syrian rebels need no-fly zone

2012-08-12 16:30

Aleppo - Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad need the protection of foreign-guarded no-fly zones and safe havens near the borders with Jordan and Turkey, a Syrian opposition leader said on Sunday.

Battles raged on in the northern city of Aleppo, where tanks, artillery and snipers attacked rebels in the Saif al-Dawla district next to the devastated area of Salaheddine.

Abdelbasset Sida, head of the Syrian National Council, said the United States had realised that the absence of a no-fly zone to counter Assad's air superiority hindered rebel movements.

He was speaking a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her country and Turkey would study a range of possible measures to help Assad's foes, including a no-fly zone, although she indicated no decisions were necessarily imminent.

"It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning," she said after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul.

Though any intervention appears to be a distant prospect, her remarks were nevertheless the closest Washington has come to suggesting direct military action in Syria.

"There are areas that are being liberated," Sida told Reuters by telephone from Istanbul. "But the problem is the aircraft, in addition to the artillery bombardment, causing killing, destruction."

He said the establishment of secure areas on the borders with Jordan and Turkey "was an essential thing that would confirm to the regime that its power is diminishing bit by bit".

A no-fly zone imposed by Nato and Arab allies helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year. The West has shown little appetite for repeating any Libya-style action in Syria, and Russia and China strongly oppose any such intervention.

Tanks advance

Insurgents have expanded territory they hold near the Turkish border in the last few weeks since the Syrian army gathered its forces for an offensive to regain control of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and economic hub.

Rebels who seized swathes of the city three weeks ago have been fighting to hold their ground against troops backed by warplanes, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery.

One rebel commander named Yasir Osman, 35, told Reuters tanks had advanced into Salaheddine, despite attempts to fend them off by 150 fighters he said were short of ammunition.

"Yesterday we encircled the Salaheddine petrol station, which the army has been using as a base and we killed its commander and took a lot of ammunition and weapons. This ammunition is what we are using [to] fight today," he said.

Osman said army tanks had thrust past a roundabout in Salaheddine visited by a Reuters team on Saturday after accompanying rebels on a mazy route through holes punched in apartment walls to create a passage safe from army snipers.

After emerging at the roundabout, sniper fire started up, then a tank could be heard rumbling in the next street. "Tank, tank, tank," one man yelled.

Quickly, a rebel shifted a rocket-propelled grenade over his shoulder and squatted on the rubble-strewn ground to fire, but minutes later, a tank shell exploded against a nearby building.

Rebels fired another RPG, answered with a rain of mortar bombs filling the sky with smoke and shrapnel. "They're going to send more mortars. Hide in the doorway," one rebel screamed.

The uneven battle showed the disparity in firepower between Assad's forces and their outgunned opponents.

Assad's new premier

Aleppo and the capital Damascus, where troops snuffed out a rebel offensive last month, are vital to Assad's struggle for the survival of a ruling system his family and members of his minority Alawite clan have dominated for four decades.

Assad has suffered some painful, but not yet fatal, setbacks away from the battlefield, losing four of his closest aides in a bomb explosion on 18 July and suffering the embarrassment of seeing his prime minister defect and flee to Jordan last week.

Syrian state television showed Assad swearing in Wael al-Halki on Saturday to replace Riyad Hijab, who had only spent two months in the job. Halki is a Sunni Muslim from the southern province of Deraa where the uprising began 17 months ago.

The deputy police commander in the central province of Homs was the latest to join a steady trickle of desertions, said an official in the opposition Higher Revolution Council group.

"Brigadier General Ibrahim al-Jabawi has crossed into Jordan," the official told Reuters from Amman.

Ali Abbas, a journalist for the state news agency Sana, was killed on Saturday night by what the agency called "an armed terrorist group", referring to anti-Assad rebels.

At least 11 people were killed the same day when the military mounted an armoured attack to try to dislodge rebels from al-Tel, a northern suburb of Damascus, activists said.

More than 160 Syrians, including 116 civilians, were killed across the country on Saturday, the London-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The Arab League said it had postponed a meeting of Arab foreign ministers scheduled for Sunday to discuss the Syria crisis and to select a replacement for Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy, and would set a new date.

Deputy Arab League chief Ahmed Ben Helli told Reuters the meeting was delayed because of a minor operation undergone by Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are the leading regional supporters of the Syrian opposition. Assad's main backers are Iran and Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah movement.

  • AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-08-12 19:07

    Help from the West would speed up the ouster of this assad terrorist, but the Syrian people will also succeed without the Europeans or the Americans. The opposition and the FSA , MUST have the majority of the population behind them, for otherewise they would NEVER have lasted, this total onslaught by assad'd terrorist army. assad will go, For sure !!!

      gerhard.kress.3 - 2012-08-12 21:36

      The brainless rantings of Mgoqi will come to an end when that mad dictator stops raping the people of Syria.

  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-08-12 20:42

    Hillarious has gone bonkers, Syria is not Libya. The Syrian government should shoot down anything that enters its air space, like it did to that Turkish Jet.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-08-13 03:28

      You were wrong with; Tunesia Egypt Libya-----very very much so! and now you are wrong with Syria and you are going to be wrong with Iran! But you just continue posting your silly and childish comments, you have got yourself a few hangers on, LOSERS like yourself. ""The Syrian government should shoot down anything that enters its air space, like it did to that Turkish Jet."" ""Me ??? No, I am not pro assad.......How can you say that???"" Yes, and Bloemfontein has a nice beach !! If ever there was a bullsh.tter on these comment sites....................!!!!!

  • shaik.spear.1 - 2012-08-12 21:20

    this is an admission by the FSA and the USA and confirms what 'we' have been saying all along! The buggers have been the main catalyst in this attempted coup of syria! Despite the childish denial by some who haven't the slightest clue of whats really going on here, but pretend to be this all knowing and as if they are part of decision makers in the american foreign affairs! Well here it is! America has decided that the 'opposition' needed a no fly zone in order for them to level the 'playing field'. Whilst Its is the mercenaries that need the help of their paymasters before they die on syrian soil, for they have bitten of more than they can chew. This is Spearone Shaik reporting for 'The Truth' from the frontier in alleppo, syria

      gerhard.kress.3 - 2012-08-12 22:14

      I vote for a syrian no fly zone.

      shaik.spear.1 - 2012-08-12 22:21

      so tell your government cause i certainly dont care about your disability!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-13 00:08

      Curious how words can be inverted and distorted. Beliefs do that, faulty ones.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-08-13 00:27

      Placing quotation marks around "we" doesn't make your Ego less codependent. It's still codependent. There are 14 other codependent Egos who agree with you. :)

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