Regime Warplanes Pound Aleppo as Ground Assault Looms
Syrian regime warplanes pounded rebel positions in second city Aleppo on Sunday ahead of a threatened ground assault by more than 20,000 troops assembled around the commercial capital.
A high-level security official said Syria's army completed its deployment of reinforcements to the northern city of Aleppo, ready for a decisive showdown.
"The war is likely to be long, because there will have to be street battles in order to get rid of the terrorists," the source told Agence France Presse, declining to be named.
"All the reinforcements have arrived and they are surrounding the city," he said. "The army is ready to launch its offensive, but is awaiting orders."
Morning clashes killed at least two rebels in Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding Sunday's violence cost at least another 38 lives across the country -- 24 civilians, 10 soldiers and four more rebels.
Troops shelled rebel-held Salaheddin district in the southwest and clashes erupted in the neighborhoods of Sukari, Hamdaniyeh and Ansari neighborhoods, the Britain-based watchdog said.
The opposition Syrian National Council charged the army bombardment of Aleppo, scene of fierce fighting since July 20, was hitting the city's key public institutions, some of historical significance.
"After failing to subdue (rebel forces) in Aleppo... the Syrian regime's gangs have started to target government institutions and buildings," the exiled opposition group said. "Some of them have historical and archaeological value."
Aleppo preserves a raft of historical sites, including its renowned 13th century citadel. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization named the Ancient City a World Heritage Site in 1986.
The SNC accused the army of shelling Aleppo's television building.
"The criminal regime does not hesitate to shell these institutions," the group said. "The rebels were forced to move away from the television building in order to protect the Syrian people's property and heritage."
Rebels tried to storm the state television building on Saturday before being driven back by shelling, the Observatory said.
A senior government security figure warned at the weekend that "the battle for Aleppo has not yet begun, and what is happening now is just the appetizer... The main course will come later."
The official said at least 20,000 troops were now on the ground. "The other side are also sending reinforcements," the official added of the rebels, who claim to have seized half the city.
The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said the army had killed "hundreds of terrorists" in Aleppo but that between 6,000 and 8,000 remained.
In Damascus, regime forces raided the district of Qaboon on Sunday, arresting several civilians, the Observatory said, adding that one of the detainees was a 12-year-old boy.
After clashes with rebels in Rokn Eddin on Saturday, the military set up new checkpoints in the neighborhood of Damascus and in several other parts of the capital.
Elsewhere in the province of Damascus, clashes broke out in Kfar Batna as regime forces shelled that village. The army also shelled Harasta, in the same province.
At Rastan in the central province of Homs, regime forces pounded rebel positions, said the Britain-based Observatory.
"Regime forces dropped more than 60 shells on Rastan, at a rate of four to five shells a minute," the watchdog added.
Syria's army said on Saturday it had seized Tadamun, the last rebel-held district of Damascus, after heavy fighting, and authorities took journalists on an escorted tour.
"We have cleansed all the districts of Damascus, from al-Midan to Mazzeh, from al-Hajar al-Aswad to Qadam... to Tadamun," an officer told reporters on the tour.
The fighting has displaced tens of thousands, including some 600 Palestinian families who arrived in Lebanon in the past three days, most escaping violence at the Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus, a Palestinian official in Lebanon said.