Syria sends armoured column to Aleppo, strikes from air
AMMAN/BEIRUT, (Reuters) - Syria sent thousands of troops surging towards Aleppo in the early hours of Wednesday, where its forces have been pounding rebel fighters from the air, engulfing the country’s largest city in total warfare to put down a revolt.
Recent days have seen Syria’s 16-month-old uprising transformed from an insurgency in remote provinces into a battle for control of the two main cities, Aleppo and the slightly smaller capital, Damascus, where fighting exploded last week.
President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have launched massive counter assaults in both cities. They appear to have beaten rebels back from neighbourhoods in the capital and are turning towards Aleppo, a commercial hub in the north.
Syrian forces fired artillery and rocket barrages early on Wednesday at the northern Damascus suburb of al-Tel in an attempt to seize the town from rebels, causing mass panic and forcing hundreds of families to flee the area, residents and opposition activists said.
The 216th mechanized battalion headquartered near Tel started bombarding the town of about 100,000 people at 3:15 a.m. (0015 GMT) and initial reports indicated residential apartment blocks were being hit, they said.
“Military helicopters are flying now over the town. People were awakened by the sound of explosions and are running away,” Rafe Alam, one of the activists, said by phone from a hill overlooking Tel. “Electricity and telephones have been cut off.”
Opposition activists said thousands of troops had withdrawn with their tanks and armoured vehicles from the strategic Jabal al-Zawiya highlands in Idlib province near the Turkish border and were headed towards Aleppo.
Rebels attacked the rear of the troops withdrawing from the region at the villages of Orom al-Joz and rami near the main Aleppo-Latakia road and at the village of al-Bara west of the Aleppo-Damascus highway, activist Abdelrahman Bakran said from the area.