Inside Aleppo: Rebels repulse Syrian tanks, civilians dodge shells (+video)
Monitor reporter Scott Peterson reports from the Aleppo neighborhood of Salaheddin that the rebels are impeding the Syrian Army's ground progress, pushing them to use more deadly tactics.
When the Syrian government launched its assault on Aleppo's rebel-held enclave of Salaheddin at dawn July 28, rebel fighter Abu Omar had no idea that he would soon make his first kill – as he put it – in the name of freedom.Skip to next paragraph
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As the sound of gunfire and exploding grenades began to cascade noisily outside, Abu Omar and a handful of rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) leapt anxiously from their mattresses, donned fighting gear, and raced downstairs to step into the fight.
"I don't think the [Syrian] Army will come here. We killed it before," said Abu Omar as the battle commenced. Whatever the outcome, it would be a victory, he said. "If someone from the Free Army dies, we don't get sad. For sure they are in Paradise."
"We will not let the Syrian Army get into Salaheddin before we die," vowed a fighter named Malek.
The Battle of Aleppo may prove a pivotal point when the history is written of Syria's fateful civil war, which could bring to an end the Assad family's 42-year dynasty and change strategic balances across the Middle East. The result of the first two days of the assault, witnessed by the Monitor in the Salaheddin enclave, indicate that far more blood will be shed before either side can declare "victory."
IN PICTURES: Inside Aleppo, Syria
Already the 17-month uprising has claimed upwards of 17,000 lives. Regime forces have fought back ferociously in Homs, Damascus, and in many other cities, leaving a trail of death and destruction that has shocked many Syrians and broadened hatred toward their ruler.
Yesterday, at the outset of a visit to the region, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said of the Aleppo assault that "this kind of tragic attack ... ultimately will be a nail in Assad's coffin."
"What Assad has been doing to his own people ... makes clear that this regime is coming to an end," he said.
[Today, Syrian state TV claims the Army has taken "complete control" of Salaheddin from "mercenary forces." However, rebels disputed that claim, with a senior FSA commander for Aleppo telling Agence France-Presse that government forces had "not progressed one meter."]
Before battle, tanks amass
In recent weeks, rebels made gains in southwestern and eastern districts, and Aleppo held its breath as it waited for the inevitable counter-strike from the Syrian Army.
From dawn to dusk on July 27, helicopters circled overhead, firing constant bursts from heavy machine guns. Some 80 tanks arrived as reinforcements on the western side of the city.
The only questions were when the attack would come, how violent it would be – and whether the rebel FSA could stall a far superior military force.
On the street in Salaheddin after dawn on July 28, rebel fighters quickly loaded rocket-propelled grenades that had arrived overnight. Sacks of bullets were sent closer to the front, handfuls of them stuffed into pockets.
In one narrow entryway, a new green tin of fragmentation grenades sat on the ground, waiting for use and labeled in the American fashion, "8 Grenade Hand / High Explosive Offensive." A gray box without markings held more RPG rounds and a red plastic shopping sack was heavy with bullets.
As Syrian Army tanks began moving in from the north, Abu Omar was sent out to take part in a diversionary attack on a nearby military fuel point. He said later that when he arrived there, the fighters already had too few bullets, so they "failed" to seize the post.
Making a Difference