Syrian troops halted as rebel confidence grows
The Syrian government's assault on Aleppo appeared to have stalled last night as rebels claimed new victories against the increasingly demoralised troops of Bashar al-Assad.
Rebels now believe they can capture the country's biggest city within days despite being outgunned. Yesterday they stormed a number of bases including police stations in the Aleppo suburbs, killing as many as 40 members of the security forces. It followed their capture of a key checkpoint on the road to the Syrian border the day before.
State media said troops were still "pursuing terrorists" in the suburb of Salaheddin, which on Monday it claimed to control, as well in other districts.
Mohana Abu Bakri, the commander of the rebel Abu Emara Battalion, told 'The Daily Telegraph' that the front line in Salaheddin remained where it had been the day before, despite heavy fighting. Other rebels reported bombing runs by both jets and helicopters.
"Thanks to the shelling there is hardly a street without holes in its houses or totally collapsed houses," he said.
The regime has been forced into using air power as tanks that avoid being ambushed are proving an ineffective tool in the city's narrow streets.
Rebel units scattered for cover during an air attack on Miayasr in Aleppo's south, next to Salaheddin, following the pre-dawn rebel capture of two police stations, a military court, an air force intelligence headquarters and a branch of the ruling Ba'ath party.
Louay Mokdar, an organiser for the Free Syrian Army in Turkey, claimed the dead from the police station attacks included a colonel, as well as intelligence officers and members of the "shabiha" militia. Dozens more were captured and taken to rebel prisons.
It is now 12 days since a sudden push swept the rebels into the metropolis of two million, with the government counter-attack coming four days ago.
The course of the battle so far has bolstered rebel confidence. The Syrian army has moved cautiously under the cover of artillery fire and air support.
But the rebels were increasingly bullish yesterday.
"We don't have goals for the coming months. We have goals for the coming days. Within days, God willing, Aleppo will be liberated," said Col Abdel-Jabber al-Oqaidi, head of the Joint Military Council in Aleppo, who defected from the Syrian army six months ago.
"We secure our areas and then move to other neighbourhoods, pushing towards the city centre.
"The regime's capabilities are also being weakened. They can shell us from afar with tanks and helicopters. But inside their morale is zero."
Four tank crews in Salaheddin surrendered as soon as opposition fighters appeared. Mr Abu Bakri said 16 defectors had crossed over to his side in Salaheddin yesterday and 30 to 40 more in a neighbouring district.
Taha Ahmed, a military vet who works on securing defections from an army ranger's base north of Aleppo, said his task was becoming easier.
"The officers have been too scared to move but they are now talking with us," he said. "We have some infiltrators inside and we are gaining day by day defectors to join the Free Syria Army."
Abu Abdul Jabr, another rebel leader, said he believed the fight for Aleppo would be finished by the end of Ramadan, the holy fasting month, in mid-August.
"The government controls nothing any more, except through shelling and artillery," the bearded former interior decorator said in the front- line town of Marea. "They can make a massacre but that is it.
"We have the resolution to fight. It means with us one month on the streets is equivalent to five years in military services." (© Daily Telegraph, London)