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Aleppo in for major battle

  Syria army‚ rebels mass forces for a decisive showdown


BEIRUT: The Syrian army and rebels deployed more forces in and around Aleppo today as a “decisive” battle for control of the country’s second city raged, activists and regime sources said.

“Hundreds of rebels from all over the north of Syria are arriving in Aleppo, which appears to have become the decisive battle,” a journalist for a Syrian newspaper working in the city said.

“Around a dozen districts on the outskirts of the city are in the hands of the rebels and you can hear the sound of bombardment and automatic gunfire,” he said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed the influx of rebel fighters.

“In the past 48 hours, there are army reinforcements arriving on the Damascus-Aleppo highway,” he said. This afternoon, they used roadside bombs to hit a convoy of security forces travelling towards the city, killing eight. A security source said the key battle underway was in the districts between the city and the airport, “which are in the hands of the terrorists.” Clashes continued in the neighbourhood of Bustan al-Qasr, in the south of the city, where army helicopter gunships fired on the neighbourhood, the Britain-based Observatory said. In Aleppo, clashes raged in the central Al-Jamaliya neighbourhood, close to the local headquarters of the ruling Baath party. In Kalasseh, in the south of the city, rebels set fire to a police station.

In Hama province, 16 people were killed in an army assault on the village of Sharia along with a couple and their two children who were killed in Qalaat al-Madiq nearby as they tried to flee shelling in their village.

Russia objects to arms threat

MOSCOW: Russia has told Syria it is unacceptable to threaten to use chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its strongest condemnation of a recent warning by a Syrian official. In a meeting with Syria’s ambassador to Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov laid out Russia’s position on inadmissibility of any threats of use of chemical arms.

Lebanon issues warning

BEIRUT: Lebanon has asked Syria to avoid incursions or bombardments into Lebanese territory, the foreign minister said in a release on Wednesday. Several Lebanese civilians have been killed, including women and children, during Syrian border incursions and bomb attacks on Lebanese soil which Syria says target rebel fighters seeking a safe haven.

Jordan steps up security

CAIRO: Jordan has taken precautions in case chemical weapons are used in Syria, the Jordanian foreign minister said on Wednesday. Asked about Jordan’s preparations if such a scenario unfolded in Syria, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said: “Jordan does not interfere in the internal affairs of nations but we have taken all precautions to protect our nation’s safety.”

300 flee into Turkey

GENEVA: About 300 people fled from Syria into Turkey overnight, amid guarantees to keep the border open to refugees. “I can confirm we not only have assurances from Turkish officials borders remain open for Syrians fleeing the violence, but also we know that around 300 people crossed last night,” said a spokeswoman for UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

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