‘Nonstop shelling’ rocks Aleppo
(CNN) — Combat consumed parts of the sprawling Syrian city of Aleppo Saturday, a disturbing sign for world powers who fear an all-out government assault.
Government forces shelled Aleppo neighborhoods, and Free Syrian Army rebels clashed with government soldiers in and around the city on Saturday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. At least 10 of the 53 people that the LCC reported killed across the country on Saturday died in Aleppo province.
“The heaviest clashes since the beginning of the revolution are taking place now in a number of neighborhoods in Aleppo city,” the LCC said. The uprising started more than 16 months ago after the Bashar al-Assad government cracked down fiercely on peaceful protesters.
Regime forces are preventing fuel and food from entering Aleppo neighborhoods controlled by rebel fighters, opposition activists said. Rebels have had to set up medical clinics in homes.
“They are besieging our area,” said Abu Omar, a resident of the Salaheddin neighborhood. “There is no electricity in some parts, and food is scarce.”
For more than a week, regime forces and rebel fighters have clashed in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub and largest city
But the fighters have been preparing for a major confrontation. The “mother of all battles,” is how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime is labeling the confrontation, Free Syrian Army deputy commander Malik Kurdi said.
The United Nations and Western countries, fearing widespread death and destruction, have urged the Syrian government to call off an offensive in Aleppo.
The threat of heavy violence on Saturday wasn’t limited to Aleppo. Syrian state-run media alluded to a possible showdown in Hama province.
“In a response the constant pleas of the residents in the area, a unit from our armed forces started to cleanse Karnaz town in Hama from the armed terrorist gangs,” Syrian state TV reported. The Syrian government has blamed violence in the country on vaguely defined armed terrorist gangs.
Fighting over the Syrian issue flared across the border in the Lebanese city of Tripoli on Saturday.
At least 12 people were injured in clashes between Alawites and Sunnis. In Syria, Alawites, an offshoot of Shiism, dominate al-Assad’s regime. While Sunnis have a significant presence in the Syrian regime, they are also dominant in the opposition movement.
Friends of the al-Assad’s regime signaled their support for the embattled regime.
Iran’s energy minister, Majid Namjou, vowed his government “will not leave Syria alone in such a difficult situation,” according the state-run Press TV.
The report said the two nations signed a deal Thursday to expand sharing of electricity and water, with Namjou saying Iranian firms are ready to rebuild damaged power plant facilities.
A.K. Lukashevich, the Russian foreign ministry spokesman, on Saturday reiterated his country’s opposition to unilateral sanctions on Syria and won’t agree to inspections of ships sailing under the Russia flag.
Russia has been a longtime arms supplier to Syria, but it has said that it will not deliver new weapons to Syria as long as the situation there is unstable. Lukashevich made the remarks after the latest round of European Union sanctions against the al-Assad regime.
The Obama administration supports political transition and has called for al-Assad to step aside. One senior U.S. official told CNN the United States has increased contacts with the Syrian opposition in recent weeks.
“The U.S. and others are playing more of an advisory role to the opposition now,” the official said Friday.
But U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Friday he’s not aware of any discussions about giving the opposition any “lethal support.”
The LCC says more than 16,000 people have been killed since the Syrian crisis erupted in March 2011. The U.N. secretary-general said this week that almost 17,000 people have died.
CNN’s Saad Abedine, Amir Ahmed, Ivan Watson and Barbara Starr and journalist Shiyar Sayed Mohamad contributed to this report.