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Aleppo short on weapons, medical supplies as Syria's next big battle looms

The expected Syrian government offensive hasn't begun in earnest, but Aleppo's rebel-held neighborhoods are being pounded by shelling and gunfire and clinics are filling up with wounded.

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Syrians in this city expressed anger today that so little had been done to help them, citing United Nations Security Council vetoes from Russia and China and declarations from the US and Europeans ruling out military intervention.

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American and Turkish intelligence agencies reportedly channel light weapons, communication gear and intelligence data to them, and Gulf countries like Qatar have provided cash and more. One rebel fighter carried a fresh-out-of-the-box 12-gauge shotgun; another wore new fragmentation grenades on his belt.

The shortages have also been felt by a medical system overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Evidence of need is everywhere. On one street, the tail fins of a 120mm mortar shell have buried themselves in the asphalt. Shrapnel smashed the windows of a car nearby and struck at least one person, who left a trail of blood splashes on the sidewalk for a full city block.

“We can’t do anything but sometimes only watch them die,” says Umm Huda, the female doctor who runs this makeshift emergency ward. “There are children, ten or three years old, they have done nothing and you see them die. They are angels.”

She says the lack of international help has been a mixed blessing.

The US “can do a lot of things; they know how to end it,” she says in between treating casualties. At the same time, the Russian and Chinese vetoes of intervention “is a good thing... we want to win, but we want it ourselves, with no help from anybody.”

France yesterday demanded that the UN take action to stop the “bloodbath” in Syria. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaking at the site of the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, warned bickering world powers against repeating the mistakes that allowed Srebrenica to happen.

“I don’t want any of my successors after 20 years visiting Syria and apologizing for what we could have done now to protect civilians in Syria, which we are not doing,” he said.

A leaflet held up at a recent demonstration in Aleppo read: “Hey world, how many kids should be killed before you DO something?”

Turning on the regime

Although Syria’s civil war has dragged on longer and generated a far greater death toll than any other “Arab Spring” revolt, an increasing number of Syrians are joining the rebels – due to the actions of the regime itself.

Abu Omar, for example, says he left his special forces unit while deployed to a rebel-held area of northwest Syria.

“They gave us orders to kill the people who don’t have a gun, but who just went out of their homes and shouted ‘freedom,’” says Abu Omar. “There were girls and little boys killed. I was just shooting in the sky. If we don’t shoot, they take us to jail, or kill us there.”

Likewise, Abu Hamza left the Syrian police after being ordered to shoot people as they left Friday prayers in the coastal town of Latakia after they began shouting “God is great.”

“My moral sense wouldn’t let me do it,” Abu Hamza recalls. He still carries his police ID card. “My father and brother go to mosque and shout in Aleppo every Friday. How could I shoot such people in Latakia? These people are family.”

And how did his father react, when he told him the story?

“He said, ‘Bravo, bravo!’” Abu Hamza recalls. “He hates the government for killing people.”

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