Fighting escalates in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo:
After almost a week of intense battles in Damascus, the Syrian capital, fierce clashes were reported Saturday between government forces and armed rebels in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub.
An opposition activist familiar with the situation in Aleppo described a rebel offensive inspired in part by the uprising in Damascus.
“These are the biggest clashes in Aleppo,” said the opposition activist, who goes by the name of Hashem Abu Muhammed. “The city will not calm down, the clashes will continue until they…liberate all of the neighborhoods.”
Insurgents seeking to oust President Bashar Assad appear intent on stretching the capabilities of government forces already engaged in battles across vast swaths of Syria and on its far-flung borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.
Aleppo had been mostly insulated from the violence raging elsewhere in Syria – although, as is the case in Damascus, restive suburbs have for months been centers of anti-government protest and armed rebellion. The university in Aleppo has also been a protest hub and scene of violent government crackdowns.
The business elites of Damascus and Aleppo have been regarded as pillars of support for the Assad government, which has portrayed itself as a guarantor of stability in an often-tumultuous region. But the unrest in the two urban centers, on top of the insurgency in the provinces, may undermine that image and further erode support for Assad.
Fighting Saturday was said to be centered in Aleppo’s Salahudeen district, which has been an opposition hotbed.
Rebel forces who had “liberated” nearby suburbs infiltrated Aleppo late Friday, joining rebels already in the city to attack government positions in the neighborhood, said Abu Muhammed, reached by Skype. That prompted a fierce shelling counterattack from tanks stationed at a nearby soccer field, he said, in the first such shelling in the city.