29 Jul 2012

Arm us, say Syria rebels, as battle for Aleppo rages

Helicopter gunships continue to bombard Aleppo in an effort to regain control of Syria’s second city from rebel fighters. But rebels remain confident after fighting off government attacks.

The country’s foreign minister declared that the insurgents would be defeated, as the head of the Arab League said what was happening in Syria – and especially in Aleppo – amounted to war crimes.

But though they may be out gunned, the rebels remain confident after they fought off a government attack.

On the outskirts of Aleppo, the Free Syrian Army has liberated several towns but inside the city they continue to be bombarded from the skies.

State media has described the fighting as “the mother of all battles”. The rebels agree.

Neighbourhoods surrounding the city bare all the scars. One farmer said a helicopter had dropped a bomb which uprooted a tree and threw it 30 metres.

Commercial hub

Aleppo is a commercial hub and Syria’s biggest city. Gaining control is crucial if the FSA is to establish a stronghold in the north.

But the government onslaught shows no sign of letting up. Syrian activists are concerned that civilians are among the dead.

FSA spokesman Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi said: “We expect them to commit a huge massacre.

“I urged the international community, in an announcement a few days ago, to interview in order to avert these massacres.”

Refugee exodus

As rebels pour into Aleppo, people are desperate to pour out. Those in the north head for Turkey, and those further south have Jordan in their sights.

In town of Zaatari, preparations are underway to receive tens of thousands of Syrians refugees.

Fighting continues elsewhere in the country. In Homs, scene of one of bloodiest combats of the revolution, rebels have stormed government buildings.

Tonight the head of the opposition, the Syrian National Council, has called on the international community to arm the rebels for the battle for Aleppo – a fight they see as a decisive turning point in the Syrian conflict.