Assad’s tanks move on Aleppo rebels


Government tanks penetrated a rebel-held district of Aleppo on Wednesday, sparking fierce clashes, the Free Syrian Army said, as Amnesty International raised concerns about civilians in the city.
“The regime forces advanced into Al-Malaab Street (in Salaheddin district) with tanks and armoured vehicles and fierce fighting is now taking place in the area,” Wassel Ayub, a commander in the rebel army, told AFP.
The foray came after the army shelled several districts of the northwestern city before dawn, killing 12 people, while another civilian died elsewhere in the province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Among the dead were a woman and her two children, killed when a shell landed on their house in Al-Mashatiyah neighbourhood, the Observatory said.
The neighbourhoods of Qatarji, Tariq al-Bab and Shaar also came under heavy shelling, the Britain-based watchdog said.
The Syrian Revolution General Council, a network of activists on the ground, reported overnight shelling in the neighbourhoods of Al-Kalassa, Shaar, Sukari and Tariq al-Bab as well as heavy artillery fire aimed at the Bustan al-Qasr and Fardoss districts.
The violence came as rights group Amnesty International expressed concern about the plight of the city’s civilians, citing satellite images indicating an apparent increased use of heavy weapons in the area.
Amnesty warned forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who has been trying to crush an uprising against his rule that broke out in March 2011, and rebels opposing him, that attacks on civilians would not go unpunished.
“Amnesty International is sending a clear message to both sides in the fighting: Any attacks against civilians will be clearly documented so that those responsible can be held accountable,” Amnesty’s Christoph Koettl said in a statement.
The London-based watchdog said images from Anadan, a small town near Aleppo, revealed more than 600 probable artillery impact craters from the fierce fighting over the city.
It said an image from July 31 showed what seemed to be artillery impact craters next to what appeared to be a residential housing complex in Anadan.
Amnesty said it was concerned the deployment of heavy weaponry in residential areas will lead to further human rights abuses and grave breaches of international law.
On Tuesday, Assad vowed to crush the 17-month rebellion as he appeared on television for the first time in two weeks.
“The Syrian people and their government are determined to purge the country of terrorists and to fight the terrorists without respite,” he was quoted by state news agency SANA as telling visiting senior Iranian envoy Saeed Jalili, using his regime’s terminology for rebel fighters.
Assad had earlier appeared on television for the first time in more than two weeks in a meeting with Jalili, a top aide to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Jalili offered Assad his country’s backing, saying Tehran would “never allow the resistance axis — of which Syria is an essential pillar — to break.
“What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue but a conflict between the axis of resistance on the one hand, and the regional and global enemies of this axis on the other,” he said.
On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said “retired” members of the Revolutionary Guards and army were among the 48 Iranians taken hostage in Syria by rebels.
“A number of the (hostages) are retired members of the Guards and the army. Some others were from other ministries,” Salehi was quoted as telling reporters as he flew back from Turkey, which he asked for help in freeing the Iranians.
It was the first time Tehran admitted any of those abducted had a connection to its military.
Iranian officials had previously insisted the 48 Iranians were only pilgrims travelling to a holy Muslim site in Damascus. This was the first time Tehran admitted that any of them had a connection to its military.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II meanwhile said Assad might make a “worst case scenario” retreat to an Alawite stronghold if he falls from power.
“I have a feeling that if he can’t rule Greater Syria, then maybe an Alawi enclave is Plan B,” Abdullah said in an interview with US television network CBS.
“That would be, I think for us, the worst case scenario — because that means then the breakup of Greater Syria.
“That means that everybody starts land grabbing which makes no sense to me. If Syria then implodes on itself that would create problems that would take decades for us to come back from.”
King Abdullah predicted Assad would keep up his brutal crackdown to cling to power because he “believes that he is in the right.