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MENAFN - Arab News - 29/09/2012

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(MENAFN - Arab News) Fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) struggled to make headway against government forces yesterday in a battle for Aleppo, the country's largest city.

On the second day of an offensive they have billed as decisive, the rebels also threatened to take on local Kurdish militants - a move that would further complicate a war that has already spilled over Syria's borders.

Fighters reached by telephone from Beirut described fierce combat in several neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub and the site of a two-month-long stalemate in the conflict.

Armed with machine guns and homemade rockets, they said they faced a difficult task against an enemy hitting them with artillery and fighter jets.

"We reached the middle of Suleiman Al-Halibiya and liberated some neighborhoods so I am still optimistic. But I'm worried about our organization. We can't force the regime out. At best, I think we can advance some of our positions," one fighter said, requesting anonymity.

Other rebels said that one of the units fighting in the city had been surrounded. Another said some battalions were pulling out of the front line or had never joined the battle.

Neither side appears capable of striking a decisive military blow, although a rebel bomb attack wrecked the army's command headquarters in the heart of Damascus on Wednesday, showing their growing reach.

Though the rebels claimed no major gains in Aleppo, government forces appeared to be coming under heavy attack in some quarters.

State television said "terrorist groups" were firing mortar rounds at an area in the southeast of the city, killing three people including two children, and wounding 10 others.

Activist Ahmed Abdelrahman said battles had been waged sporadically throughout the night and that a war plane had bombed a cluster of buildings near the town of Azaz, less than a kilometer from the border with Turkey.

Video published by activists showed frantic residents digging through a collapsed building and pulling out at least one body. Abdelrahman said others were still believed to be buried in the wreckage.

The rebels, who have grown suspicious over some Kurdish militants' ties with Assad, also threatened to confront groups they said were linked to the militant Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK) in neighboring Turkey.

Turkey, which has thrown its weight behind the opposition and allows the Syrian rebels sanctuary, is worried about the autonomy-seeking PKK taking advantage of the unrest in Syria to strike inside its borders.

In Aleppo's Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud, rebels said they had captured at least eight men from the Shabbiha - Syrian slang for pro-Assad militias. Some of the captives were killed, they said.

One rebel leader issued a warning to the Kurds through the Facebook page for the Tawheed Brigade, the largest Aleppo unit.
"Tawheed Brigade leader Abdelqadir Al-Saleh made a final request by phone to the PKK gangs, to drop their weapons immediately and not drag themselves into a losing battle that is not their fight," it said.
"Whoever carries arms in the face of the opposition battalions will find themselves under fire."

The United Nations human rights council, meanwhile, yesterday extended the mandate of its investigation into war crimes in Syria by another six months.

It also condemned widespread violations by Syrian government forces in the 18-month-old conflict.

The 47-member Geneva forum adopted a resolution submitted by Arab states by a vote of 41 states in favor, with three states - China, Cuba and Russia - against and three abstentions.

Syria's Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui rejected the text as "highly-politicized and selective" and accused "terrorists" of fueling the violence in his country.

Since it was set up a year ago, the independent inquiry led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro has interviewed more than 1,100 victims, refugees and defectors but has been denied access to Syria.

"The work of the commission of inquiry is important because as they continue to document the names of individuals responsible for these crimes and violations, they help ensure that this will not be a case where impunity prevails, but rather that those responsible for crimes against the Syrian people will face justice and accountability," US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told the talks. Switzerland has proposed that Carla del Ponte, a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, join the inquiry as a commis


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