Syrian army ‘readies for assault on Aleppo’

Rebel strongholds shelled in country’s commercial hub as pro-regime paper warns of a looming “battle of all battles”.

Fighting has continued in Syria’s commercial capital, Aleppo, as a pro-regime newspaper warned of a looming “battle of all battles”.

Opposition activists said government forces shelled two rebel strongholds in the city on Thursday, and bombardment was also reported in the capital, Damascus.

The newspaper Al-Watan, which is close to the regime, led on Thursday with the headline “Aleppo, the mother of all battles”. Citing an Arab diplomatic source, it said: “Aleppo will be the last battle waged by the Syrian army to crush the terrorists and after that Syria will emerge from the crisis.”

Fighting has flared in some parts of Aleppo since fighters on July 20 launched an assault to to take control of the regime power base.

A security source told the AFP news agency that the army was preparing for an all-out assault on rebel-held districts.

“The special forces were deployed on Wednesday and Thursday on the edges of the city, and more troops have arrived to take part in a generalised counter-offensive on Friday or Saturday,” the source said.

Rebels also brought in reinforcements, and said a regime assault appeared imminent.

“We expect a major offensive at any time, specifically on areas across the southern belt, from east to west,” Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, told AFP.

Erecting barricades

Some of the fighters admitted to the news agency’s correspondent that they were no march for the military and said many shared the certainty they would die in the expected assault.

In the meantime they prepared to confront the troops, filling sandbags to erect barricades and moving a bus into position to block a street.

Meanwhile, the United States said on Thursday it appeared that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were “lining up” for a massacre in Aleppo, but again ruled out military intervention in the conflict.

The US state department said that credible reports of tank columns moving on Aleppo along with air strikes by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft represented a “serious escalation” of the government’s efforts to crush the armed rebellion.

“This is the concern: that we will see a massacre in Aleppo and that’s what the regime appears to be lining up for,” Victoria Nuland, the department’s spokeswoman said, said.

But Nuland said that the US did not foresee military intervention in the conflict without a mandate from the UN Security Council, where Russia has blocked US-led efforts to rally a stronger response.

“We have to redouble our efforts with like-minded nations outside of the UN system,” Nuland said, adding that the main
objective now was to work with the opposition on plans for an eventual democratic transition.

“When that day comes, we have to have a Syria for all Syrians,” Nuland said.

Damascus violence

Across Syria, at least 114 people were killed on Thursday, including 61 civilians, 32 regime troops and 21 rebels, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group says about 19,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March last year.

Regime forces shelled the village of Yalda, just south of Damascus, killing 16 civilians, among them five children and four women, the Observatory said.

“The villagers are terrified,” the Syrian Revolution General Commission said in a statement, adding that “there are difficulties helping the wounded. Some houses collapsed with people still inside them.”

In southern Damascus, street battles were also fought on Thursday morning in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, the Observatory said.

“There are clashes on Street 30 in the Yarmouk camp between Syrian regime forces and fighters from rebel units. Explosions can be heard,” it said.

A resident of the area reached by phone confirmed the fighting.

“They are using RPGs and heavy machineguns,” he told AFP.

Elsewhere in the city, activists said several districts in the southern part of the city were under assault by regime forces, including the rebel stronghold of Hajar al-Aswad, where helicopter gunships reportedly were used.

Source: News Agencies