Syrian rebels deploy heavy weapons in fight for Aleppo
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Anti-regime rebels are deploying captured army tanks and other heavy weapons against Syrian forces as the battle for Aleppo continues, UN monitors said Wednesday. The General Assembly is preparing to vote Friday on a resolution censuring the regime.
Syrian rebels are in possession of captured tanks and other heavy weapons and are deploying them in the battle for Aleppo, a United Nations spokesman said Wednesday, in the run-up to a General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
“The [UN] observers now have confirmed information that the opposition is in possession of heavy weapons including tanks in Aleppo,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York on Wednesday.
Amateur video footage recently posted on the Internet appears to show Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters carrying out summary executions of pro-regime militiamen, or Shabbiha, in and around Aleppo.
The videos, which could not be independently verified, appear to show the rebels mistreating their opponents in the same way as government forces have been accused of doing during the uprising.
One video shows four men identified as Shabbiha lined up against a wall and executed in a volley of gunfire that lasts more than a minute as onlookers shout, "Allahu akbar (God is greatest)".
Another video captures about 15 corpses at a police station before a rebel fires at one, blowing its head off.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has condemned the killings.
According to activists and reporters, rebels used a tank previously captured from the military to bombard the Menagh air base near the northern city on Thursday. The position was being used by government forces to launch helicopter and other aerial attacks on Aleppo.
The regime has claimed several victories by government forces in Aleppo, especially in the hotly contested quarter of Salaheddine. However, rebels said they were still in control of at least half of the district and most of Aleppo’s surrounding region.
The fight for Syria’s most populous city entered its 12th day on Thursday, with residents warning of food and fuel shortages.
Fighting between opposition forces and troops loyal to the Assad regime also raged near the capital, Damascus.
A resident of Jdeidet Artouz, a suburb southwest of Damascus, said government troops had killed 35 men there.
“Almost all of them were executed with bullets to their face, head and neck in homes, gardens and basements,” the man, who gave his name as Fares, told the Reuters news agency.
Syrian state television said “dozens of terrorists and mercenaries surrendered or were killed” when the army raided Jdeidet Artouz and its surrounding farmlands. It also quoted an officer as saying his soldiers had seized bombs, mines, guns and uniforms.
A symblic UN resolution
With Western powers and Arab countries continuing to apply diplomatic pressure on Assad’s regime, the UN General Assembly is poised to vote on a symbolic resolution demanding that Assad step down and hand over power to a transitional government.
The draft resolution, which is being introduced by Saudi Arabia and is backed by Egypt and Bahrain, also says the Syrian army must stop aerial attacks and withdraw to its barracks. A vote is set for Friday morning.
The UN text takes a swipe at Russia and China by “deploring the Security Council failure” to act. Moscow and Beijing have used their veto in the smaller, more powerful Security Council three times to bury resolutions that could have opened the door for new sanctions on Syria.
While the 193-member General Assembly has no legal mechanism for enforcing a resolution, an overwhelming vote can carry moral and symbolic power. Voting is by simple majority, and there is no veto power.
France, which took over the Security Council presidency for the month of August on Wednesday, has called for a meeting of Security Council foreign ministers to address the Syria crisis. While it was almost certain the gathering would not lead to new sanctions against Assad, it offers another way to pressure Russia and China on the issue.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in London on Thursday, but it is widely expected that talks are likely to skirt the Syrian crisis.
With relations thawing since the end of a five-year freeze on top-level contacts between Britain and Russia, Cameron was expected to take in some of the Olympic Games with Putin at his side.