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Middle East
Syria forces 'targeting' civilians in Aleppo
Residents in rebel-held areas of city say indiscriminate attacks by fighter jets and artillery have destroyed lives.
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2012 18:32

Syria's second-city of Aleppo is bearing the scars of more than two months of attacks by government warplanes, tanks and heavy artillery as the army battles to dislodge rebels who claim to control 60 per cent of the northern metropolis.

"We don't have enough weapons, they [the Syrian army] don't have enough men," Abu Haidar, a rebel fighter the city's southwest Saif al-Dawla district, told the AFP news agency on Saturday.

At least 200,000 people have fled the city since late July when the increasingly bloody conflict spread to Aleppo, a once thriving manufacturing and commercial hub where war has now left a trail of destruction, with bombed out buildings and shuttered shops.

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Some rebel commanders say they are aware that even if the Free Syrian Army, a collection of armed opposition groups, seizes full control on the ground, they will remained besieged from the air by the military's far superior firepower.

"Bashar al-Assad is like a wounded animal now, so I don't expect him and his army to follow a logic," Abu Mohamed, who leads a small katiba [brigade] near the Citadel in old Aleppo, said of the embattled Syrian president.

Meanwhile, fighting continues in Damascus on Saturday, where the Associated Press news agency reports that at least 35 people have been killed.

Just southwest of the Syrian capital, in Daraya, the bodies of at least 79 people were found, according to activists who said many were young men who appeared to have been killed by Syrian troops "execution style".

Opposition activists say the deaths would bring the toll from an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad forces on Daraya to 149.

Security source

And on Thursday, the army said it had recaptured three Christian neighbourhoods in the heart of the predominantly Sunni Muslim city, whose fate is seen as crucial to the outcome of the war, in part because of its strategic
location near Turkey.

A Damascus security source said rebel ranks were swelling in terms of men but that the opposition fighters were lacking in arms as government air strikes had destroyed many weapons caches.

"The army is trying to create security zones," the source said, by carving up neighbourhoods using troops and tanks to control the main streets and then "cleansing" each area of rebels.

"It's a long process," he said.

Amnesty International said this week that civilians were facing "horrific" violence in Aleppo and indiscriminate attacks by regime troops, reporting scores of civilians killed or wounded in their homes or while queuing for bread.

Internal discord

Assad's men now control the Citadel, an ancient fortress in the heart of the Old City, but rebel fighters are surrounding the area and often take pot-shots at the troops.

Some rebels said the reason Assad's forces do not launch a wider ground assault to reconquer Aleppo and use their greater firepower to break the back of the rebellion could be linked to its military failure in the town of Azaz,
which lies north of Aleppo near the Turkish border.

Government forces stormed Azaz in February but the FSA seized control at the end of July after five months of fierce fighting.

"Assad's army had prepared a large ground offensive but when the time came to fight, the soldiers were divided and fought among themselves," said Abdullah, a rebel who defected from the army a year ago.

"Assad now knows he cannot trust his own men, if he wants to send troops into the field. Azaz was on a relatively small scale, but if he deploys 20,000 men for an assault on Aleppo and the same kind of thing happens, imagine the
consequences.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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