Syria rebels struggle to advance in Aleppo offensive

BEIRUT Fri Sep 28, 2012 4:56pm EDT

1 of 3. Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Kafranbel, near Idlib September 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Shaam News Network/Handout

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels said they were struggling to make headway against a barrage of government jet and artillery attacks in their latest attempt to take control of the country's largest city Aleppo after weeks of deadlock.

On the second day of an offensive they had billed as a "decisive battle", rebels also threatened to start fighting local Kurdish militants - a move which would further complicate a war that has already spilled over Syria's borders.

Fighters reached by telephone said they had been locked in hours of fierce combat in several neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub, on Friday.

Rebels armed with machineguns and homemade rockets said they faced a difficult task against a better-equipped enemy.

"We reached the middle of Suleiman al-Halabi and liberated some neighborhoods so I am still optimistic. But I'm worried about our organization. We can't force the regime out. At best, I think we can advance some of our positions," one fighter said, requesting anonymity.

Other rebels told Reuters one of their units had been surrounded. One fighter said some insurgent battalions were pulling out of the front line or had never joined the battle.

The 18-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began as peaceful protests but has descended into a civil war. More than 30,000 people have been killed, say activists.

Syria's government says it is fighting Islamist hardliners, adding that thousands of Arab and foreign fighters have entered the country from Turkey.

MORE TALK, LITTLE ACTION AT U.N.

World powers have been meeting at the United Nations this week but are divided over the crisis.

Russia, China and Iran back Assad and oppose any UN sanctions on Syria's leader.

Western countries and Arab states supporting the opposition remain unwilling to take forceful action, despite Qatar's calls for Arab intervention. Some western diplomats say they have been frustrated by what they see as a lack of clear command structure and coordination among the rebels.

One group of countries sympathetic to Syria's opposition is planning to hold another "Friends of Syria" meeting, but there was little prospect of that resulting in action against Assad.

"I just expect ideas to be presented. There will be no concrete plans," Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby told Reuters at the conference in New York.

Diplomats on Friday said that Carla del Ponte, the International Criminal Court's former chief prosecutor, will be named to join a UN investigation into abuses in Syria. Del Ponte was known for doggedly pursuing former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at the ICC. [ID:nL5E8KS58C]

Human rights investigators say state forces and some rebel groups have committed war crimes in Syria.

Inside Syria, neither side seems ready to put down its arms. Assad's forces have pounded rebel-held areas across the country, and clashes erupt daily. Yet both sides appear incapable of striking a decisive military blow.

A main international concern has been the security of Syria's chemical weapons sites. But U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cited U.S. intelligence on Friday suggesting that the chemicals remained secure.

The rebels appear to be improving their reach. A bomb attack on Wednesday wrecked the army's command headquarters in the heart of Damascus, though no major officers were killed.

FIGHTING THE KURDS

The rebels also threatened to confront locally-based Kurdish militant groups who they said they suspected of supporting Assad.

They said the groups were linked to Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK) which has been fighting for autonomy in neighboring Turkey.

One rebel leader issued a warning to the Kurds through the Facebook page for the Tawheed Brigade, the largest rebel unit in Aleppo.

"Tawheed Brigade leader Abdelqadir al-Saleh made a final request by phone to the PKK gangs, to drop their weapons immediately and not drag themselves into a losing battle that is not their fight," it said.

"Whoever carries arms in the face of the opposition battalions will find themselves under fire."

In Aleppo's Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud, rebels said they had captured at least eight men from the shabbiha - as the pro-Assad militias are known. Some of the captives were killed, they said.

It was unclear if the victims were Kurds, a stateless ethnic group who stretch over much of the region and have so far been split over their support for the uprising.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon and Mariam Karouny; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Comments (6)
QuidProQuo wrote:
They better stay that way. This is no place for radical foreign fighters to get a hold of these things. I personally do not believe allowing for the ovethrow of Syria’s government due to the instability of that countries weapons supply. Assad has not used these weapons. If overthrown who is to say that the freak radicals won’t think it might be a great form of retaliation to utilize some of the supply? No way. The best thing we can do is work with Assad to ensure the secure and stable placement of these weapons. It would be best to have them moved to a new place that only a few top level people are aware of. Have we even worked with Assad on this area? Whether we like him or not, he is still in control of Syria’s military and can at any time be infiltrated by radical rebels who could cause incredible destruction with these weapons. Let’s face it, if he really, really wanted to end this once and for all he could have let loose by now and anihilated the rebels.

Sep 28, 2012 11:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
americanguy wrote:
In one article, the reporter was quoted as saying he heard 10 different languages among the “rebels”. Terrorists and Al Qaeda are known to be with the rebels, and the world needs to realize their goal is to get their hands those chemical weapons, to use against the US and other Western countries. We and NATO may well be very sorry we ever helped the “rebels”. The Syria war is not the same as the uprisings Egypt and Libya.

Sep 28, 2012 12:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
usagadfly wrote:
No more “red lines” in the Middle East, period!!!!!

American interests are, first and foremost, domestic ones. It is most certainly NOT in American interests to draw any “red lines” anywhere in the Middle East. And it is high time we stopped behaving like an Israeli colony, subservient to their will, and placing Israeli interests ahead of those of the vast majority of our own citizens. No more money or arms for Israel, and no more Income Tax deductions for contributions to either Israeli Secret Police or military forces of all kinds.

Take care of America first! No one at all second. Pay your “entitlement” obligations in full before spending a penny on Israel. America first!

Sep 28, 2012 12:40pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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