Opposition group, FSA deny rebels abandoning frontline district in Aleppo


The opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Wednesday denied a report by Reuters saying that rebels have abandoned a frontline district in the northern city of Aleppo.

Rebels were quoted by a Reuters reporter as saying that its fighters have left Salah al-Din district in Aleppo.

The Syrian army, meanwhile, launched on Wednesday a ground assault on Aleppo, a Syrian security official told AFP.

“The army is advancing from west to east to cut Salah al-Din in half horizontally,” the official said on condition of anonymity, referring to the key rebel stronghold in the city.

“It will not take a long time to control the district, even if there are some pockets of resistance remaining,” the source added.

Fighting in Aleppo spread to new areas on Tuesday as rebels tried to expand their hold inside Aleppo despite two weeks of withering counterattacks by President Bashar al-Assad’s troops, according to activists.

Heavily armed government troops have been steadily shelling rebel-controlled parts of the city, particularly Salah al-Din and other districts on the southwestern edge of Aleppo, for more than two weeks as the two sides fight for control over the strategic city.

Aleppo’s death toll

The Syrian army shelled several districts of Aleppo before dawn on Wednesday, killing 12 people in the northern city while another civilian died elsewhere in the province, a monitor said.

Among the dead were a woman and her two children, killed when a shell landed on their house in Al-Mashatiyah neighborhood, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The neighborhoods 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 neighborhoods of Al-Kalassa, Shaar, Sukari and Tariq al-Bab as well as heavy artillery fire aimed at the Bustan al-Qasr and Fardoss districts of Aleppo.

In Furqan district, it said security forces were deployed as a power outage struck in the area.

According to the Observatory, there were 225 people killed on Tuesday, one of the highest tolls in the 17-month revolt. Among the victims were 129 civilians, 50 rebels and 46 soldiers.

It is impossible to verify these figures and the United Nations has stopped maintaining an independent toll.

Amnesty warns of shelling in Aleppo

Meanwhile, Amnesty International expressed alarm about the plight of civilians around Aleppo, saying satellite images show intensifying use of heavy weapons near residential areas of Syria’s second largest city.

The human rights watchdog warned forces loyal to Assad and rebels that attacks on civilians would be documented and the culprits held accountable.

“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 rights group said images from Anadan, a small town near Aleppo, revealed more than 600 probable artillery impact craters from the fierce fighting over the northwestern city.

It said that an image from July 31 shows what seems to be artillery impact craters next to what appears to be a residential housing complex in Anadan.

Amnesty said it is concerned that the deployment of heavy weaponry in residential areas will lead to further human rights abuses and grave breaches of international law.

“The Syrian military and the opposition fighters must both adhere to international humanitarian law, which strictly forbids the use of tactics and weapons that fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets,” Koettl said.

A senior security official said on Sunday that the army had completed the buildup in Aleppo of some 20,000 troops in readiness for a decisive showdown in the battle underway since July 20.

The head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, voiced concern for civilians trapped in the fighting in the city of some 2.7 million people.

Rebels say they control around half of the city.