22 Jul 2012

Fresh clashes in two Syria cities

Syrian rebels battle President Assad’s forces near Aleppo as helicopter gunships bombard several districts of Damascus in an effort to drive out insurgents, witnesses claim.

Fighting raged in other parts of Aleppo, Syria’s main commercial and industrial hub, and demonstrators defaced overnight a statue of Assad’s father, the late president Hafez al-Assad, in the central Shahba area, breaking off parts of the stone edifice, according to a video taken by activists.

“Sounds of explosions from different areas are shaking the whole city. A heavy exchange of gunfire has been going on near the State Security Headquarters in al-Mouhafaza (district) since the morning,” a housewife there told Reuters by telephone.

Opposition sources said fighters from rural areas around Aleppo had been converging on the city of three million people near the border with Turkey.

The rebel Tawhid Battalion said in a video statement that a battle to “liberate Aleppo” had begun.

In the capital Damascus, Assad’s forces appeared to be clawing back territory taken by insurgents earlier in the week, driving them out of the Mezze district, according to residents and opposition activists.

‘Besieging’ Barzah

Elite Fourth Division troops were besieging the northern Damascus neighbourhood of Barzeh and the sound of tank fire was heard in the district, they said.

Helicopter gunships fired machineguns at the nearby district of Rukn al-Din and Qaboun.

The attack on Barzeh by the army’s fourth division, which is commanded by the president’s brother Maher, had sent residents fleeing from the area, the Syrian Observatory reported.

Helicopter gunships were bombarding the district and snipers were deployed on rooftops, the group’s director, Rami Abdul Rahman, told the AFP news agency.

The regime is cutting Qaboun into sectors by deploying tanks on the main roads and crossings to prevent any fighters from moving freely

“The deployment in Barzeh is very heavy,” he said, adding that troops had also massed outside the Mezzeh district.

The UN believes at least 30,000 refugees have crossed the border into Lebanon to escape the fighting.