Rebels pounded, but hold ground in Aleppo
BEIRUT — Syrian tanks and artillery pounded rebel-held neighborhoods in the commercial hub of Aleppo on Sunday in a bid to retake control, as President Bashar Assad’s regime accused regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of trying to destroy the country.
Activists say opposition fighters control large swathes of turf across Syria’s largest city. The government has been struggling for a week to beat back their assault and stem the tide of recent rebel advances in the civil war.
The head of the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, called for international help in arming the rebels to face the regime’s heavy weaponry, particularly tanks.
“If the international community cannot act, they should support the opposition with anti-tanks missiles and anti-aircraft rockets,” Abdel Basset Sida told the Gulf News during a stopover in Abu Dhabi. “We seek international supporters to arm our uprising against the regime.”
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have expressed willingness to help fund the rebels, and they are believed to be funneling money through Turkey to the opposition, which is using it to purchase arms and equipment.
“Neither the Russians nor the Iranians will relieve [Mr. Assad] of responsibility for his crimes,” it added.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem railed against interference by the region’s Sunni powers in a rare public criticism of his Middle East neighbors. He accused them of supporting the rebels at the behest of Israel.
“Israel is the mastermind of all in this crisis,” he said during a joint news conference in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi. “They [Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey] are fighting in the same front.”
“We believe that all the anti-Syrian forces have gathered in Aleppo to fight the government … and they will definitely be defeated,” he said.
Syria’s Sunni majority forms the backbone of the uprising, while the regime is dominated by Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Iran is Syria’s only remaining ally in the Middle East, standing by Damascus throughout the 17-month uprising.
Amid fears of a massacre or a bloody final battle in Aleppo, civilians have been fleeing the city in ever greater numbers. The United Nations said 200,000 civilians had fled Syria’s most populous city in two days and many were trapped.