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Syrian Regime ‘Relentless’ in Attack; ‘Hard-Line Islamic Influence’ Among Rebels

July 25, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The battle for Syria raged today in the country’s political and commercial capitals. Government tanks and planes blasted whole neighborhoods, trying to rout rebel fighters. And there were ominous signs that al-Qaida is entering the fight.

We begin with a report from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News in Damascus.

ALEX THOMSON: Just when people in the capital thought the battle was over, Qadam in the southern suburbs today, and for much of the daylight hours, tank shells, machine guns, automatic rounds reverberate around this district.

People flee the fighting any way they can. The atmosphere is tense. People are stressed out. Even explaining to foreign journalists what’s happening openly is far too risky.

MAN (through translator): My family is still inside there in danger. It’s the army. They’re shelling our houses. Lots of people are trapped and nobody can get in to save them.

ALEX THOMSON: Suddenly, people shout, “Look straight ahead. See the soldiers? They’re burning houses and they’re looting.”

As people welcome [al-Qaida extremists] with open arms, policy-makers in the West will no doubt be somewhat less enthusiastic.Alex Thomson, Independent Television News

Our camera certainly picks up two men with helmets in uniform. Tomorrow, it will be exactly a week since the fighting began in the capital of Syria itself. And in all that time, although the government forces have moved the rebels out of substantial areas, they have not solved their problem by any means. All they have done here, as in so many places, is harden opposition to the regime.

MAN (through translator): Assad will fall. The revolution will win. God is great.

ALEX THOMSON: But look at this, only a mile or two away, and Damascus is peaceful and normal. Within sight of the shelling, the U.N. posse in town today making it clear both sides in this war are hearing what they say, neither side is listening, and time is running out.

LT. GEN. BABACAR GAYE, United Nations: We have 30 days, and around today, 27 to go. So every opportunity will be seized to alleviate the suffering of the population.

ALEX THOMSON: If they fail, the mission’s probably over. They have sent half their peacekeepers home already.

In the far north of the country, the Free Syrian Army still fights to control parts of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and commercial hub. This is the Ashar district, where rebels have seized another police station today, a handful of policemen now prisoners lined up and made to kneel on the ground, police stations important because they contain ammunition.

These fighters display what they have salvaged from Syrian forces. The discovery of gas masks wasn’t lost on them.

MAN (through translator): We recovered lots of machine guns, ammunition, grenades and some gas masks. These masks were distributed by the regime because it intends to use chemical weapons.

ALEX THOMSON: Some evidence of hard-line Islamic influence here, the man in the front seat here wearing the black flag of al-Qaida. And as people welcome them with open arms, policy-makers in the West will no doubt be somewhat less enthusiastic.

By air, the regime has launched a relentless counterattack using helicopters and rockets to tame rebellious districts. More government tanks are on the way. The rebels have managed to seize some heavy artillery and are using whatever way they can.

But a tank can’t defend adequately against these. A MiG jet circles overhead. This conflict now appears locked into a pattern of attacks and counterattack on many fronts.