Turkey urges steps as shelling of Aleppo continues

AMMAN/BEIRUT Fri Jul 27, 2012 6:08pm EDT

1 of 19. Damaged buildings are seen in Juret al-Shayah in Homs July 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Shaam News Network/Handout

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad's artillery continued to pound rebel-held areas in and around Aleppo in preparation for an onslaught on Syria's biggest city, while neighboring Turkey called for international steps to deal with the military build-up.

Opposition sources said the shelling was an attempt to drive fighters inside Aleppo from their strongholds and to stop their comrades outside the city from resupplying them.

"They are shelling at random to instill a state of terror," said Anwar Abu Ahed, a rebel commander outside the city.

The battle for Aleppo, a major power centre that is home to 2.5 million people, is being seen as a potential turning point in the 16-month uprising against Assad that could give one side an edge in a conflict where both the rebels and the government have struggled to gain the upper hand.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said late on Friday that international institutions needed to work together to address the military assault on Aleppo and Assad's threat to use chemical weapons against external threats.

"There is a build-up in Aleppo, and the recent statements with respect to the use of weapons of mass destruction are actions that we cannot remain an observer or spectator to," he said at a joint news conference in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"Steps need to be taken jointly within the United Nations Security Council, the Organisation of Islamic Countries, the Arab League, and we must work together to try to overcome the situation," he said.

Cameron said Britain and Turkey were concerned that Assad's government was about to carry out some "some truly appalling acts around and in the city of Aleppo".

Turkey, a former ally of Assad and now one of his fiercest critics, cheered on the rebels in Aleppo.

"In Aleppo itself the regime is preparing for an attack with its tanks and helicopters ... My hope is that they'll get the necessary answer from the real sons of Syria," Erdogan said earlier in remarks broadcast on Turkish TV channels.

U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay urged both Syrian government forces and rebels on Friday to spare civilians in Aleppo, voicing deep concern at the "likelihood of an imminent major confrontation" in the city reminiscent of other deadly assaults.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said he was deeply concerned about reports that Syria could use chemical weapons and demanded that the government should state it would not use them "under any circumstances".

But the White House said such a promise from the Syrian president was "certainly not enough" given Assad also paid lip service to a U.N.-backed peace plan and did not follow it.

"Assad's word is not worth very much," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "Any use of those weapons, any failure to safeguard those stockpiles would be a very serious transgression that would result in those responsible being held accountable."

As the remaining residents of Aleppo braced themselves for more bloodshed, General Robert Mood, the outgoing head of the U.N. monitoring mission, told Reuters he thought Assad's days in power were numbered.

"In my opinion it is only a matter of time before a regime that is using such heavy military power and disproportional violence against the civilian population is going to fall," the Norwegian general, who left Damascus on July 19, said.

The fate of Syria - an ethnically fragmented nation of 22 million people - is likely to determine the future of the wider region amid fears that its own sectarian tensions could spill across borders.

MORTAR ROUNDS

Government troops stationed on the outskirts of Aleppo unleashed barrages of heavy-caliber mortar rounds on its western districts, while Russian-built MI-25 helicopter gunships struck in the east, opposition activists inside the city said.

The heavy fighting follows an audacious bomb attack on July 18 that killed four of Assad's closest lieutenants in Damascus, a development that led some analysts to speculate that the government's grip was slipping.

In Aleppo, rebels have detained at least 100 Syrian officers, soldiers and pro-government militiamen this week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group, said.

A video posted on YouTube showed rebels with Kalashnikovs from "The Tawheed (monotheism) Brigade" guarding the detainees, who were lined up on a school playground.

In Damascus on Friday four helicopters flew over southern areas of the capital, firing heavy machineguns into the districts of Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamon as well as into the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, a resident said.

"I can see two above me right now, heading towards Hajar al-Aswad," she said by telephone, the pounding of guns audible in the background.

With U.N. Security Council resolutions for sanctions against Syria vetoed by Russia and China for a third time last week, the United States has said it is stepping up assistance to Syria's fractured opposition, though it remains limited to non-lethal supplies such as communications gear and medical equipment.

Reuters has learned that the White House has crafted a presidential directive, called a "finding", that would authorize greater covert assistance for the rebels, but stop short of arming them.

It is unclear whether President Barack Obama has signed the document, a highly classified authorization for covert activity.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria, Matt Spetalnick and Andrew Quinn in Washington; Writing by Will Waterman; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (74)
jojo105 wrote:
the U.S. fear massacre? What BS. they are the ones supporting terrorism in Syria. Since when does Saudi Arabia care about Syria’s democracy? Do they have it themselves? No, a women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive, vote, or dress the way she pleases! In Syria Muslims, Christians, Jews, Druze, etc, live peacefully with one another. People don’t think religion there. Priests are friends with Sheikhs and so on and so forth. In Syria everyone has the right to drive, vote, dress the way they want, and receive education. A female can walk outside at 4 in the morning and not one person will touch her or harm her in anyway, where as even in the U.S. this safety and dwindles to exist. The U.S. is the mother of massacre. The U.S went into Iraq claiming it was to better the country, where has that gone? Millions of lives sacrificed, billions of dollars wasted to ruin the lives of the Iraqis, where to this day bombings occur, what democracy is this, how has this helped them in any way? The same goes for Afghanistan and Libya. America is not benefiting any of these countries. Most of the Syrian people are still with Bashar Al- Assad. Yes he may not be the best president, but he is the best for Syria. Bashar allows the freedom of relgion, something which not many other arab-nations allow. No one better is going to take his place, especially not now. I meen look who came into Egypt, he’s no better then the previous president. The truth be told what America is doing is not right. The Syrian people where living in peace, and now their living in fear because America along with other countries such as Britian, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Quatar, etc are supporting and sending terrorists to riot against Bashar Al-Assad, as well as to kill and damage beloved Syria. The Syrian people are suffering and indeed being massacred by terrorists. This is not right. If America has so much money to spend on the middle-east, why then are schools shutting and jobs closing? Why not the U.S. leave other countries to live in peace and not help the people of its own? Long live Bashar Al-Assa and Syria, and it’s people. Allah, Souria, Bashar ou Bas. Allah Yihmee Souria.

Jul 27, 2012 2:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
oxi wrote:
How dare the U.S. State Dept. mention “massacre” to sway public opinion to their side, how dare they!

These jihadist’s infiltrated the peaceful city to destabalize it and Syria has every right and a duty to defend their sovereign territory!

So when the U.S. Marines surronded Falluja in Iraq, it was ok to fight those “rebels” and nearly wipe out the city because those “rebels” were bad YET these “rebels” are supposedly good that if yoiu do the same thing as the U.S. did, now it is a “massacre” in the brewing?

How dare the U.S. State Dept. even speak. They need to listen to their double standard! Saying one group of “rebel” is bad while another “rebel” is good is distrurbing and why we should not trust their viewpoint as with the entire West when it comes to Syria.

The West is embarking on a campaign of fabrications, lies and manipulation to get their agenda’s across. It does not work with me, I do not fall for this rhetoric.

The Western press like Reuters needs to stop reporting every word from just Western sources and so-called “activists” and start to report the truth and not fabrications and general propaganda.

Reters will be held guilty of manipulation and violating their journalistic ethics and code of conduct. You cannot call encircling Aleppo a “massacre” in preparation while not saying the same thing for Falluja in Iraq a few years back!

Syria has every legal right to go after these “rebels” as a sovereign nation and the fact that these “rebels” brought the fight to Aleppo is being ignored is proving once again of the Western press bias including Retuers in this conflict.

Sad that the Western press ignores their own code of conduct and ethics, so sad!

Jul 27, 2012 3:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Domsayshi wrote:
WASHINGTON (AP) — In the first tally of its kind, a federal investigative agency has calculated that at least 719 people, nearly half of them Americans, were killed working on projects to rebuild Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003.
The toll represents an aspect of the Iraq war that is rarely brought to public attention, overshadowed by the much higher number killed in combat as well as the billions of taxpayer dollars squandered on reconstruction.
There is no confirmed total number of Iraq war deaths. The U.S. military lost 4,488 in Iraq, and its allies a little over 300. The number of Iraq deaths has not been established but is thought to exceed 100,000.

Speaking of massacres…

Jul 27, 2012 5:17am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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