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Syrian Rebels Routed in Capital Fight Elsewhere PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ben Hubbard Associated Press   
Thursday, 26 July 2012 01:18

BEIRUT (AP) — Fighter jets unleashed sonic booms and helicopter gunships strafed rebels as they pressed their fight Tuesday into new neighborhoods in Aleppo, Syria's largest city. Farther south, ground troops combed Damascus after the nearly complete rout of the largest rebel assault yet on the capital.

After a series of setbacks, President Bashar Assad's forces are solidifying their grip on Aleppo and Damascus, knowing that their fall would almost certainly spell the regime's end.

The regime appears to be regaining momentum after a series of setbacks that put it on the defensive. But while its forces easily outgun the rebels in direct confrontations, the rebellion has spread them thin — pointing to a drawn-out civil war.

Syria's two biggest cities, home to more than one-third of the country's 22 million people and centers of its political and economic life, have remained largely insulated from the unrest that has ravaged much of the rest of the country during the 16-month conflict.

But this month, rebels from surrounding areas have pushed into both, bringing street battles to previously calm urban neighborhoods.

The fighting in each city has followed a similar script.

After building up their forces in the countryside and clashing with government troops there, rebels pressed into Damascus early last week, sparking clashes around the city with government troops.

The opposition landed a harsh blow July 18, when a bomb tore through a high-level security meeting, killing four top Assad security advisers including his minister of defense and his older sister's husband. All had been key architects of the government's efforts to quash the uprising.

But the battle turned when the regime deployed the overwhelming force it has used to crush rebels elsewhere, shelling residential areas and targeting rebels with machine guns and missiles fired from attack helicopters.

On Tuesday, the government appeared to have largely retaken the capital. Activists reported shelling and sporadic clashes between troops and rebels in and around the city, but acknowledged that most fighters had withdrawn.

"They had to withdraw because they lacked ammunition and organization, because the regime was stronger and because they didn't want to hurt civilians," Damascus activist Mohammed Saeed said via Skype.

The fighting took a huge toll, making June one of the deadliest months in a conflict that activists say has killed more than 19,000 people.

About one-third of the 150 people killed across Syria on Monday were in or near Damascus, said the Britainbased Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Amateur video posted online Tuesday showed the aftermath: buildings reduced to rubble by government shells, helicopters hovering overhead and columns of smoke rising from areas still on fire.

Other videos showed tanks in the streets and crowds of foot soldiers combing areas once held by rebels.

Syria's state news service said troops chased "armed terrorists" from some districts after killing and wounding many of them and were still searching other areas. Syria blames terrorists backed by foreign powers for the uprising.

Videos and claims could not be independently verified. The Syrian government prevents most media from operating in the country.

While the regime asserted control in the capital, rebels in the north launched an assault on Aleppo over the weekend. They pushed into neighborhoods in the southern and northeastern edges of the city and destroyed at least three government tanks.

The fighting expanded on Tuesday, with clashes spreading into neighborhoods on two sides of the historic old city and into a number of other areas, activists said.

The government fought back much as it did in Damascus, firing artillery shells on rebel areas and pursuing fighters with attack helicopters. Residents also reported fighter jets swooping over the city, breaking the sound barrier to cause sonic booms in a show of force.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 01:21