Rebels in 'unprecedented' battle for Aleppo
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Residents in Aleppo have told FRANCE 24 that an offensive launched by rebels on Thursday is “unprecedented” in its intensity, as districts previously under government control came under attack for the first time.
Rebels in Aleppo have unleashed a “decisive battle” for control of Syria’s second city with an “unprecedented” barrage of shellfire in districts previously untouched by the fighting, residents told FRANCE 24 on Friday.
Locals confirmed that the fighting has moved to well-to-do districts such as Sayyid Ali and Suleimaniyeh in the northeast of the city, until now controlled by regime forces, for the first time.
“The government forces have told us to stay indoors and to go down to our cellars,” said one resident who asked not to be named. “We’ve never heard so much artillery fire in this part of the city. It’s unprecedented.”
The intensity of the rebel attack was confirmed by Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
"The fighting is unprecedented and has not stopped since Thursday,” the observatory (SOHR) told AFP. “The clashes used to be limited to one or two blocks of a district, but now the fighting is on several fronts."
On Thursday rebel leaders said they were launching a make-or-break battle as several thousand fighters went on the offensive.
"Tonight, Aleppo will be ours or we will be defeated," Abu Furat, a rebel commander, told AFP.
Regime strikes in Damascus
At the same time in the capital Damascus, regime forces launched their own offensive against rebel-held parts of the city, the Observatory (SOHR) said.
"Regime forces stormed the neighbourhoods of Barzeh, Jubar and Qaboon in Damascus, cutting off streets and breaking into and raiding houses. They arrested a large number of residents," it said.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network said "a large number of soldiers and tanks have deployed throughout" Barzeh district and that "the sound of gunfire can be heard, and families in the neighborhood are in panic."
The uprising in Syria has claimed more than 30,000 lives since protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted in March 2003, according to the UK-based SOHR.
So far United Nations efforts to pressure the Assad government, which is a key ally to Iran, have been stymied by Russian and Chinese vetoes.
The intensifying conflict has dominated proceedings at the UN General Assembly in New York, where UN and Arab leaders expressed concerns the country could become a "regional battleground."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League leader Nabil al-Arabi and special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi voiced those fears as they met at UN headquarters to discuss "the appalling levels of violence," said a UN spokesman.
"The three leaders warned against the risk of Syria turning into a regional battleground as violence intensifies.
"They were concerned that Syria will fall prey to actors whose agenda has nothing to do with Syria if violence continued," the spokesman added.
Security Council ‘paralysed’
There was also mounting Western pressure on Russia and China to ease their opposition to UN action against the Assad regime, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the UN's inability to act.
"The atrocities mount while the Security Council remains paralysed and I would urge that we try once again to find a path forward" for the council to try to end the violence," she said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the blood of children killed in the conflict had become "a terrible stain on the reputation of this United Nations."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country stands accused of blocking UN action, accused the West of pursuing policies that had destabilised Arab countries.
"They have already created a situation of chaos in many territories and are now continuing the same policy in other countries -- including Syria," he told reporters.
In New York on Friday, Clinton is due to host a meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group at which Syrian activists will urge world leaders to do more to help people caught up in the battle.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
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