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Middle East

Mortar fire rocks Aleppo as US promises more aid

Latest update : 2012-09-29

Rebels attacked government troops with mortar fire in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, in an attack “unprecedented” in its intensity, as the US revealed it will provide an extra $45 million for humanitarian aid and the civilian opposition.

Rebels unleashed barrages of mortar fire against troops in the city of Aleppo Friday, residents said, as Washington unveiled new funding for humanitarian aid and the civilian opposition.

Residents of neighbourhoods previously spared the worst of the two-month-old battle for the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, told AFP the violence was unprecedented.

"The sound from the fighting...has been non-stop," said a resident of the central district of Sulamaniyeh, who identified himself as Ziad.

"Everyone is terrified. I have never heard anything like this before."

Rebels said they had advanced on several fronts, particularly in the southwest, but admitted they had failed to make any significant breakthrough.

Abu Furat, one of the leaders of the Al-Tawhid Brigade, the most important in the city, summed up their problem.

"To win a guerrilla street war, you have to have bombs and we don't."

Abu Furat said 25 soldiers had been killed in the assault, while another rebel fighter said 20 of his comrades had died on the battlefield, with 60 more wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the intensity of Friday's fighting in Aleppo had been unprecedented.

Yet it was not yielding major gains for either side, said the Observatory's head Rami Abdel Rahman.

"Neither the regime nor the rebels are able to gain a decisive advantage," he said. By Friday afternoon the intensity of the fighting in Aleppo had abated.

Across the country, at least 117 people had been killed on Friday, 71 of them civilians, the Observatory said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

In New York, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a total of $45 million dollars in new funding for humanitarian aid and to help the civilian opposition in Syria.

Some $30 million will go towards aid, bumping up the total US funding for humanitarian relief to $130 million with a further $15 million for the civilian Syrian opposition, she told a meeting of the Friends of Syria.

Washington has stuck by its refusal to provide arms and military support to the rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, fearing it would further complicate the situation on the ground.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed Britain was adding £8 million ($12.9 million) to the £30.5 million it had already given in humanitarian aid.

US attacks Iran's role in conflict

Clinton also attacked Iran's role in the conflict.

"There is no longer any doubt that Iran will do whatever it takes to protect its proxy and crony in Damascus," she told the Friends of Syria meeting.

But in his speech to the UN General Assembly Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed Western powers for obstructing an international solution to the crisis.

He insisted the Geneva accords adopted on June 30, which do not call for Assad to step down, should be the basis of any transition plan. But Western powers had rejected this, he said.

Russia itself has been heavily criticised at this week's UN General Assembly from countries that accuse it of thwarting efforts to halt the Syrian civil war by using its veto to quash resolutions targeting the Damascus regime.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League leader Nabil al-Arabi expressed concerns the country could become a "regional battleground".

In Washington, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the Syrian regime had moved some chemical weapons to safeguard the material.

He added: "We still believe, based on what we know and what we're monitoring, that the principal sites remain secure."

There was fighting in Damascus Friday where troops attacked several rebel areas in the north and the south of the capital, leaving three civilians dead, the Observatory said.

And on the northern border with Turkey, a Syrian shell crashed into a town on the Turkish side, wounding a Turkish national, a local official said.

Aid agencies have expressed concern at the growing refugee crisis.

About one million to 1.5 million people are internally displaced, with a further 300,000 having slipped into neighboring countries such as Turkey and Lebanon, according to UN estimates.

Earlier this week, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, Jordan's King Abdullah II thanked the international community for helping his kingdom host Syrian refugees.

"The somber reality is, however, that more will be needed, as the camps grow more crowded with vulnerable families and the cold desert winter approaches," he warned.



Date created : 2012-09-29

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