Syrian opposition claims control of more than half of Aleppo as battles continue


Syrian opposition forces claimed control of about 60 percent of the city of Aleppo, and an activist group reported that four Syrian army officers have defected to opposition ranks, Al Arabiya television reported on Saturday.

As the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) fought government troops in the commercial capital, the Syrian Center for Documentation activist group has claimed that four Syrian army officers, including a brigadier and a colonel, had defected to the opposition forces.

But back in the capital, Damascus, the Syrian army now has the whole city under its control, a brigadier general on Saturday told journalists visiting the neighborhood of Tadamun, the scene of heavy fighting earlier in the day.

“We have cleansed all the districts of Damascus, from al-Midan to Mazzeh, from al-Hajar al-Aswad to Qadam... to Tadamun,” said the general who led the military operation in Tadamun, refusing to give his name.

“The situation in Damascus is excellent and stable,” the Syrian regime general told reporters.

The officer said regime forces retook the southern district early Saturday afternoon, and that it was the last rebel bastion in the city to be retaken by the military. However, his assertion was disputed by those who opposed the Syrian regime.

“The Free Syrian Army has withdrawn from Tadamun,” anti-regime activist Lena al-Shami told AFP news agency in Beirut by Skype.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.”

Fighting erupted in Damascus on July 15 and raged for several days as rebels seized several districts, forcing thousands of residents to flee for safety from what had for many months been the country's safest city.

In Yalda, the Damascus neighborhood next to Tadamun, an AFP reporter saw a dozen corpses thrown on a rubbish dump. Some had been burned, and others mutilated.

“These are civilians who were kidnapped and killed by the armed groups,” the general said of killings the state news agency SANA described as “horrible massacres.”

The rebels had buried their dead in a hilly park in Tadamun, where the local mosque had been turned into a clinic for the wounded, and where traces of blood and dirty dressings remained.

Tactical retreat

Meanwhile, in the northern city of Aleppo, FSA Captain Hussam Abu Mohammed, who participated in battles around radio and TV stations, said opposition forces had made a “tactical retreat” from the buildings after coming under fire from Syrian army helicopters.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel forces withdrew from the district of Izaa where the state television building is situated.

“Rebel forces planted explosives there, and regime forces shelled the area,” the Britain-based Observatory reported. “The rebels then withdrew from the area.”

According to state news agency SANA, “mercenary terrorist groups attacked civilians and the state TV building (in Aleppo), while the army defended it.”

FSA says it is now in control of the areas surrounding the media buildings.

During the battles between FSA and the regime’s army, correspondents belonging to the Syrian National Council (SNC) reported that broadcasts from Syrian TV channels, one and two, have stopped.

SNC also reported of battles taking place in Salah al-Din and al-Furkan neighborhoods in Aleppo.

The Observatory said that clashes also raged in Saif al-Dawla district.

“Helicopters and fighter jets were seen overhead in Aleppo,” the watchdog added.

Abduljabir al-Kaidi, head of the military council of SNC in Aleppo, meanwhile, told Al Arabiya that the Syrian regime is using foreign fighters especially Iranians.

In the same time, FSA denounced opposition fighters executing regime elements, saying it was “ outside the law.”

A YouTube video on July 31 showed rebels, not clear if they were FSA fighters, executing the regime’s gang-like militia, the Shabiha, with bullets in Aleppo, amid pro-FSA chants.