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Even as government forces have driven them out of parts of Damascus, Syrian rebels have launched a new campaign in the country's largest and once firmly pro-regime city of Aleppo. And as the fighting worsens in Syria, Western and Arab governments are pursuing new measures to circumvent Russian and Chinese obstinance to end the conflict and oust the Assad regime.
Syrian forces under the command of Maher al-Assad, brother of President Bashar al-Assad, drove the rebels out of the Damascus districts of Mezzeh and Barzeh over the weekend, witnesses told Al Jazeera English. Activists told AJE that the Syrian military has reestablished checkpoints along one of the main roads into the city, and is sending reinforcements into the capital. Activists in Mezzeh told Reuters that the government forces executed at least 20 men during the capture of the neighborhood.
But AJE adds that rebels have launched attacks around the northwestern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest and wealthiest city, which beforehand had been largely untouched by the fighting. Aleppo activist Jad Al Halabi told AJE that the current fighting in the city is the worst to date.
“I traveled to Salahedin neighborhood. I was shocked to see the revolution flags everywhere, in the streets, on buildings, at the balconies. I also saw a large number of Free Syrian Army members,” he said by phone.
The Independent's Robert Fisk underscores the significance of the fighting in Aleppo, writing it is a sign that the Alawite-dominated government may be losing a key groups of supporters: middle-class Sunnis.
While the drama of last week's assault on Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus stunned the Arab world, the sudden outbreak of violence in Aleppo this weekend was in one way far more important. For Aleppo is the richest city in Syria – infinitely more so than Damascus – and if the revolution has now touched this centre of wealth, then the tacit agreement between the Alawite-controlled government and the Sunni middle classes must truly be cracking.
And as Russia and China continue to stymie a United Nations Security Council response to the Syrian conflict, the United States, European Union, and Arab League have all moved independently to attempt to resolve the situation. Today Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi offered President Assad and his family a "safe exit" from Syria if he should resign immediately, The Telegraph reports. Mr. Arabi also announced that the Arab League has committed $100 million to handling Syrian refugees who have fled the country.
Also today, a meeting of EU foreign ministers agreed to expand sanctions against the Syrian regime, imposing asset freezes and travel bans against 26 more people and banning EU companies from doing business with three more entities, reports Reuters. The sanctions also require EU governments to search suspect Syria-bound planes and ships for weapons and other banned equipment.
And The New York Times reported over the weekend that Obama administration officials have at least temporarily shelved diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, in favor of boosting rebels and rallying like-minded countries to topple the Assad regime. The Times writes that the US hopes to provide more communication equipment and training to the rebels, and may supply them with intelligence as well.
By enhancing the command-and-control of the rebel formations, largely by improving their ability to communicate with one another and their superiors and to coordinate combat operations, American officials say they are seeking to build on and fuel the momentum of the rebels’ recent battlefield successes.
“You’ll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened,” a senior Obama administration official said Friday. “Now we’re ready to accelerate that.” The official said that the hope was that support for the Syrian opposition from the United States, Arab governments and Turkey would tip the balance in the conflict.