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Syrian Troops Fight to Recapture Rebel-Held Salaheddine District in Aleppo

July 31, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next to Syria, where the battle for Aleppo has been under way for 11 days.

It’s the largest city, with a population of three million, and the country’s commercial center. Much of the fighting is concentrated in the opposition stronghold in the southwestern part of the city, including the Salaheddine district.

We begin with a report narrated by Inigo Gilmore of Independent Television News.

INIGO GILMORE: Hand-to-hand fighting on the streets of Aleppo, this is the Salaheddine district of the city, an area the Syrian government claims to have recaptured. But, here, rebel fighters seem to have something of a swagger as they stand their ground, giving as good as they get.

MAN (through translator): We hope our brothers in the Syrian army will look and see what Bashar al-Assad has done to our country. He has destroyed it. We’re asking them to put down their arms and join us to fight this infidel regime.

INIGO GILMORE: For now, they seem to be on their own, as government forces continue to bombard this area with heavier weapons. Salaheddine has become a critical battleground, vital for the army as a key access point to the city.

The fighting is relentless, and the injured continue to pour into makeshift clinics. Earlier, rebels attacked a series of police stations in the city. One of the few international journalists in Aleppo was with them at the time.

KIM SENGUPTA, The Independent: I have been with some rebel fighters who have been attacking police and military first. They were successful in the first three. The fourth one, we — they went to attack and I accompanied them. It wasn’t quite that way. The rebels ran out of ammunition and then the regime called in airstrikes.

INIGO GILMORE: After a series of setbacks, the Syrian army is trying to reinforce their armory. Here, a convoy of tanks and armored vehicles are hastily moved up to Aleppo from Damascus 500 miles away. It’s heavy weapons the army appears to desperately need.

KIM SENGUPTA: At some stage, one would think that they will start using their heavy weapons, their tanks the heavy artillery, but that hasn’t happened.

INIGO GILMORE: That might explain why the rebel leader in this city appears so confident, at least for now. Here he was today strolling through the streets, being greeted by well-wishers.

COL. ABDELJABBAR EL-AKEEDI, Free Syrian Army (through translator): Our battle is a street war with the regime. We liberated some areas and are trying to establish stability. Then we will move forward to other neighborhoods in the direction of the city center.

INIGO GILMORE: But their planned push into the center of Aleppo will not happen easily. There are reports tonight that Assad’s forces are stepping up the fight, pounding rebel positions by air and land.