Syrian artillery, planes and a helicopter gunship pounded rebel positions in Aleppo as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces tried to break through opposition fighters’ front line in Syria’s largest city.
Clashes were also reported on Saturday between government forces and rebels around Aleppo’s television and radio station.
“It was the most violent shelling of Salaheddin since the outbreak of fighting in Aleppo” on July 20, said the Free Syrian Army’s military chief, Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a London-based group opposed to the Assad regime.
“It is not the first time the army has tried to storm Salaheddin,” al-Oqaidi added.
Syrian television said a large number of “terrorists”, the term it uses for the rebels, were killed and wounded after they tried to storm the television and radio station in Aleppo.
Aleppo is home to 2.5 million people and the fate of Salaheddin district, seen as a gateway for the army, could determine the outcome of the conflict that has already claimed some 18,000 lives.
Government ‘retakes’ Damascus
In Damascus, the Syrian capital, regime forces retook Tadamun on Saturday, the last remaining rebel bastion, after heavy shelling.
A brigadier-general told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity that regime forces retook the southern district at 2pm (1100 GMT).
Violence also broke out in the Jobar area of Damascus, the SOHR said, adding that the violence killed at least six people in a Damascus province on Saturday.
Heavy explosions shook the city on Saturday and helicopters circled overhead as rebels appeared to be renewing their offensive in the city, witnesses and activists said.
“We have cleansed all the districts of Damascus, from Al-Midan to Mazzeh, from Al-Hajar Al-Aswad to Qadam… to Tadamun,” said the brigadier-general, who led the military operation in Tadamun, refusing to give his name.
“The (rebel) Free Syrian Army has withdrawn from Tadamun,” anti-regime activist Lena al-Shami told AFP in Beirut, the capital of neighbouring Lebanon, by Skype.”But the FSA is everywhere in the capital. They cannot and will not take control of any area here in Damascus. Instead, they are resorting to hit-and-run tactics against important regime targets.”‘Acts of brutality’Syria’s unrest has intensified in the past few weeks, with fighting engulfing Damascus and Aleppo for the first time in the 17-month uprising against Assad family rule.
The FSA has launched increasingly bold attacks in the two main cities and established strongholds in relatively central neighbourhoods in recent days.The rebel army had claimed to have consolidated most of its control in the east of Aleppo, while also maintaining a grip on central neighbourhoods, including Salaheddin and Bab al-Hadid.Internet and telephone networks in Aleppo were mostly cut for the fourth day on Saturday, hampering attempts by rebels to co-ordinate and forcing them to use couriers to deliver orders.
Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said “acts of brutality” reported in Aleppo could be crimes against humanity. His comments came before the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution deploring the Security Council for lack of action.The UN chief has warned world powers they must overcome their rivalries to put an end to a “proxy war” in Syria.