Last Updated: Wed Aug 22, 2012 17:55 pm (KSA) 14:55 pm (GMT)

Free Syrian Army claims control of two-thirds of Aleppo, regime denies

A member of the Free Syrian Army fires during clashes with Syrian Army soldiers as others take positions in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla district, August 20, 2012.  (Reuters)
A member of the Free Syrian Army fires during clashes with Syrian Army soldiers as others take positions in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla district, August 20, 2012. (Reuters)

Syria’s opposition fighters control almost two thirds of the northern city of Aleppo, a top Free Syrian Army commander said on Tuesday, in a claim denied by a security source in Damascus.

“We now control more than 60 percent of the city of Aleppo, and each day we take control of new districts,” Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi told AFP news agency by telephone. His claims could not immediately be verified.

“Every time we seize an area, the army responds with shelling,” Okaidi said.

“This is completely false,” the security source told AFP. “The terrorists are not advancing, it is the army that is making slow progress. Terrorist groups occasionally come out of districts under their control and attack other districts to be able to then claim they have this or that street under their control.”

“After that, they quickly return to their lairs.”

Syria’s second city has been at the epicenter of the conflict since fighting erupted there almost a month ago, triggering a major army assault about a week later.

Okaidi, who is the FSA commander for the province of Aleppo, listed more than 30 districts that he said are under FSA control.

Among them were the southwestern neighborhoods of Saif al-Dawla, Bustan al-Qasr, Mashhad, Ansari and Fardoss, as well as Shaar, Hanano and Sakhur in the east, Bustan al-Basha in the northeast, Sheikh Saeed Fardoss in the south, and Kalasse near the city Centre.

About half of the embattled district of Salaheddin is in rebel hands, Okaidi said, adding that the FSA also holds the central neighborhood of Tilal.

Okaidi said Aleppo’s residents are helping the FSA by giving them food and water.

“The people are with us,” he said. “How else do you think we could have lasted a month?”

Meanwhile across Syria, at least 60 people were killed on Tuesday by regime security force, Al Arabiya reported, citing the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) activist group.

In Damascus, government forces reportedly stormed a rebel-held town outside Damascus Tuesday after days of fierce fighting, killing at least 23 fighters, AP reported, according to an activist group and a rebel spokesman.

In Aleppo, a Japanese TV reporter was killed Monday while covering the fighting in Syria’s largest city. She was the first foreign journalist to die in the city since clashes between rebels and regime forces erupted there almost a month ago.

In neighboring Lebanon, where the civil war in Syria has been spilling across the border, security officials said clashes between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad have left two dead and as many as 45 wounded. The army said the injured include nine Lebanese soldiers.

Damascus and its suburbs have witnessed a dramatic spike in fighting over the past month. And regime forces were further stretched when a major battle for control of the northern city of Aleppo erupted around the end of July. Before that, the fighting had been concentrated outside the big cities during the 17-month-old uprising.

It has proved difficult for Assad’s forces to put down the rebel challenge in the big cities, a sign that the regime’s grip on power over the country is loosening.

The LCC and a rebel spokesman said regime troops entered the rebel-held town of Moadamiyeh at dawn from four points. They searched homes looking for rebels. The rebel spokesman asked to be identified by his first name only, Ahmed. He said three men in their late 20s and early 30s were shot dead execution style in the town soon after its fall in the hands of the regime forces.

The report could not be independently verified.

Moadamiyeh, west of the capital Damascus, has been under siege for more than two weeks. Its capture followed days of intense fighting and shelling by government troops.

In northern Syria, an activist who goes by the name Abu al-Hassan said warplanes and helicopters attacked a number of towns and villages north of Aleppo early Tuesday, killing two civilians, including a young boy, and damaging homes. Several people were wounded.

After strafing a number of villages overnight, government fighter jets dropped two bombs on a residential part of the village of Marea, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Abu al-Hassan said via Skype.

Amateur videos posted online showed a huge gray cloud of smoke rising over the village and a crater in a road that was strewn with rubble and two houses whose ceilings had collapsed. Residents were searching through the rubble for survivors and carrying the wounded to pickup trucks. A second video showed a number of people, including a small boy, with serious injuries.

The videos could not be independently verified.

Marea is a relatively quiet farming village in the Aleppo countryside that was not known for being a hub of rebel activity although one rebel group runs a prison in one of the village’s schools.

“Since the strike, all I can hear outside are cars coming and going,” Abu al-Hassan said. “Actually, most of them are going.”

In Lebanon, officials said fighting broke out Monday night between supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of Tripoli and it continued on into Tuesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Assad is a member of Syria’s Alawite minority, while rebels fighting his regime are predominantly Sunnis.

The streets around the two districts were sealed off by roadblocks to keep people away from the line of snipers’ fire, but life went on normally in the rest of the city despite the occasional sound of gunfire.

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