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Fearing spillover, Turkey closes border with Syria as Aleppo braces for war

Thousands of Syrian troops are headed toward Aleppo, where rebels have taken over some neighborhoods. Many Syrians never expected the fighting to reach the regime stronghold.

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Damascus and Aleppo had been the two significant holdouts in the fighting that has gradually engulfed the rest of Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. But now the whole country is inflamed. Guerrillas from the loosely affiliated Free Syrian Army launched major assaults in both cities via sympathetic, anti-regime neighborhoods in the two cities, which vie for the title of the oldest urban centers on earth.

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Much is at stake. Whoever controls the two jewels-in-the-crown controls Syria.

City residents told the Times that today was calm, aside from the helicopters overhead, but rebels say the government sent thousands of troops, as well as tanks, toward Aleppo today. Rebels tried to destroy or contain some of the tanks coming from Idlib Province, but some got through. Rebels have sent reinforcements of their own to Syria’s second-largest city. 

As is the case in Damascus, where the Assad regime is slowly retaking control of the city from rebel fighters after they took over much of the city last week, rebel gains in Aleppo may begin to fade as well, reports the Times.

But US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said it’s important not to let this happen because rebel gains in Aleppo could “enable them to set up a safe haven inside Syria," according to AFP. 

“We have to work closely with the opposition because more and more territory is being taken and it will eventually result in a safe haven inside Syria which will then provide a base for further actions by the opposition," she said.

"We do believe that it is not too late for the Assad regime to commence with planning for a transition to find a way that ends the violence."

Few are voicing such optimistic outlooks. In his New York Times column today, Thomas Friedman compares Syria to Iraq.

"[T]he chances of this best-of-all-possible outcomes is low. That’s because Syria is a lot like Iraq. Indeed, Syria is Iraq’s twin – a multisectarian, minority-ruled dictatorship that was held together by an iron fist under Baathist ideology."

But unlike Iraq, the US and likely no other third party country will step into the fray to wrangle the Syrian conflict, he says.

"Since it is highly unlikely that an armed, feared and trusted midwife will dare enter the fray in Syria, the rebels on the ground there will have to do it themselves."

An estimated 30 people were reported killed in Syria today, including six in Aleppo, according to opposition activists and the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. As of June 2012, some 78,000 people are estimated to have fled Syria for neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Close to 25,000 are registered refugees with the Turkish government.

A Turkish official told the AFP that the border closing is an “open-ended measure and the reopening depends on the developments on the ground."

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