JUDY WOODRUFF: Syrian battle groups bore down on the country’s commercial capital today. They targeted rebels in Aleppo, where some three million people were already under air and artillery attack.
We begin with Alex Thomson of Independent Television News reporting from Damascus.
ALEX THOMSON: Damascus one week into the battle for the city and video broadcast by Syrian state television shows sustained firefights yesterday in the city’s outskirts.
But it is Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, where the latest major assault is likely. Pounded again by the regime’s forces from both the north and the south, helicopters move overhead as troops on the ground prepare for a major assault.
Activist groups in Syria claim that the government troops are being redeployed for a coming operation. Such claims are impossible to verify, but several sources now report two Syrian army convoys, the first heading from Hama Military Airport, apparently about 170 vehicles, including tanks, and these are massing at al-Zarba, south of the city.
Another column is heading to Aleppo from Idlib province. With the rebel counterattacks under way, here, what’s claimed to be the wreckage of one small part of the Idlib convoy, and nearby a captured government tank.
The rebel attacks continue elsewhere. Here in Latakia, it’s claimed they attacked two army bases. In Homs, shelling by government forces has scarcely ceased for more than three months, but they still don’t control the entire city. The capital quieter today, though still some occasional shell fire on the outskirts.
But if the rebels cannot win in the major cities, they certainly appear to be gaining ground in the propaganda war by being willing to invite along cameras.
Yet, here in Damascus, all our requests to film with the Syrian army have been refused point-blank. Could we speak to a government minister? Impossible. What about a government spokesman even? No chance. The regime apparently thinks this will still do, inside, the endless pictures of the great leader and his dad, the same video of military antics played on TV over and over again everyday, and outside, the pristine flags, the murals, the devices of a regime strangely lost in personality politics of the Cold War.
Some small opposition parties are tolerated here, so long as they’re powerless. Incredibly, it’s actually easier to interview one of their leaders than it is to speak to anybody from the government.
Hassan Abdullah Azim is chief of the opposition Nasseri (ph) party and a lawyer in Damascus. He’s been beaten and tortured by the regime in the past, but he’s still not afraid to call it even now.
HASSAN ABDULLAH AZIM, opposition leader (through translator): President Assad should step down and hand over power to the people. We should move forward and organize new free elections for the people to choose the government they want.
ALEX THOMSON: For now, all that sounds like a distant dream.