Syrian troops push back rebels in Aleppo offensive

by
August 9, 2012

By Hadeel Al Shalchi

(Reuters) – Syrian troops and rebels fought over the country’s biggest city Aleppo as President Bashar al-Assad’s key foreign backer Iran gathered ministers from like-minded states for talks on Thursday about how to end the conflict.

Assad’s troops assaulted rebel strongholds in Aleppo on Wednesday in one of their biggest ground attacks since rebels seized chunks of Syria’s biggest city three weeks ago. Late in the day, each side gave conflicting accounts of how they stood.

Assad must win the battle for Aleppo if he is to reassert his authority nationwide, although diverting military forces for an offensive to regain control there has already allowed rebels to seize large swathes of countryside in the north.

Though sympathetic to the rebels, Western powers, Turkey and Sunni Muslim Arab states have not intervened militarily. Russia has given Assad diplomatic backing which has blocked U.N. action against him, while Iran has tried to bolster a key ally in an Arab world where many view non-Arab, Shi’ite Iran as a menace.

Tehran hosts a foreign ministers’ conference on Thursday on Syria, but the attendees remain unknown, and Iran’s latest diplomatic foray into the crisis has been met with deep skepticism by Western nations.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has billed the meeting of a dozen unnamed countries as an opportunity “to replace military clashes with political, indigenous approaches to settle the disputes”. Those attending would have “a correct and realistic position” on the Syrian conflict, a senior Iranian diplomat said this week, indicating a one-sided discussion.

“The Islamic Republic’s support for Assad’s regime is hardly compatible with a genuine attempt at conciliation between the parties,” said one Western diplomat based in Tehran. It showed Iran was “running out of ideas”, he added.

Another Western diplomat said Tehran was trying to broaden the support base of the Syrian leader.

ALEPPO BATTLE

Aleppo, at the heart of Syria’s failing economy, has taken a fearful pounding since the 17-month-old uprising against Assad finally took hold in a city that had stayed mostly aloof.

“We have retreated, get out of here,” a lone rebel fighter yelled at Reuters journalists as they arrived in Aleppo’s Salaheddine district. Nearby checkpoints that had been manned by rebel fighters for the last week had disappeared.

To read more, visit: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/09/us-syria-crisis-idUSBRE8610SH20120809

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