Assad urges his army to step up fight in Syria

 

Syrian President Bashar Assad urged his armed forces today to step up the fight against rebels as the UN reported a significant escalation in the civil war with the military using warplanes to fire on opposition fighters in the battle for Aleppo.

Sausan Ghosheh, the spokeswoman for the UN mission in Syria, said that international observers had witnessed warplanes firing in Syria's largest city, where intense fighting has been raging for 12 days. She said the situation in Aleppo was dire, with "heavy use of heavy weapons" including tanks, which the rebels now possess as well.

"Yesterday, for the first time, our observers saw firing from a fighter aircraft. We also now have confirmation that the opposition is in a position of having heavy weapons, including tanks," she said, adding that for civilians, there "is a shortage of food, fuel, water and gas."

Residents of Aleppo have told The Associated Press over the past week that jet fighters have been strafing rebel positions and there are numerous videos on the Internet posted by activists showing rebels commandeering regime tanks after conquering their bases.

Aleppo, a city of some 3 million, has been wracked by violence since rebels attempted to take it over and succeeded in holding several neighborhoods despite daily assaults by regime tanks, helicopters and warplanes.

On the 67th anniversary of the Syrian army's founding, Assad pushed his armed forces to redouble their efforts in the fight in a speech that was not televised but only appeared in the army's magazine and the state news agency.

"Today you are invited to increase your readiness and willingness for the armed forces to be the shield, wall and fortress of our nation," he said.

The regime has characterized the rebellion as the work of foreign terrorists, and Assad claimed "internal agents" are collaborating with them.

"Our battle is against a multi-faceted enemy with clear goals. This battle will determine the destiny of our people and the nation's past, present and future," he said.

Assad has not spoken in public since a bomb on 18 July killed four of his top security officials during a rebel assault on Damascus and has only appeared on television once. His whereabouts are unknown and it is not even clear if he is in the capital.

He was echoed by his newly appointed defense minister, Gen. Fahd al-Freij, whose predecessor was killed in the bombing. He told the army to chase after armed groups and "kill them, preserving the homeland from their evils and restoring peace and security to the country."

Syria's powerful military, which has largely held together over the course of the uprising, is vital to keeping Assad in power. The pace of defections has been rising recently, however. Neighboring Turkey reports that 28 generals have already crossed the border.

In recent weeks, the military has unleashed heavy weapons against the increasingly bold rebels who have brought the fight to the country's two largest cities. The military managed to drive the rebels out of the capital Damascus a week after their assault with fierce bombardments of neighborhoods followed by house-to-house searches.

Minor clashes with the rebels around Damascus continue, however, and in the early hours of the morning Wednesday residents of the Christian neighborhood of Bab Touma in the old city of Damascus reported a half-hour gun battle.

Government forces also broke up two rebel cells in the capital, killing and wounding several, according to the state news agency.

There was also ongoing fighting in several other cities, including central Homs, on Wednesday. Homs saw sharp clashes between rebels and regime forces and was bombarded by mortars, artillery and rockets, according to the activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In Aleppo, the state news agency reported several victories by government forces, especially in the hotly contested rebel bastion of Salaheddine, saying dozens of "terrorists" had been killed, including some with "African" nationalities.

A high-ranking Western diplomat familiar with the intelligence assessments on Syria said earlier this week that there is a great deal of concern in the West over the flow of foreign militants into Syria to fight a jihad, or holy war, against Assad's regime.

Militants from Chechnya, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been joining the rebels in significant number, he said. They are entering by way of Iraq and Lebanon and bringing along skills gleaned from battling the Americans and Russians, according to the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss such matters.

In a message appearing on online jihadist forums, Syrian militant Abu Hussam al-Shami called on Muslims to come fight a jihad, or holy war, against the regime because it had committed atrocities against its own people.

"We will not be satisfied until we turn you into ashes like those under a cooking pot," he said, addressing the regime in the nearly 10 minute video translated by the U.S.-based SITE Monitoring Service, which tracks extremist messages.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Dikusarov said a Ukrainian military plane took off from Aleppo with 138 Ukrainians, 15 Poles who were trapped by the fighting. The plane stopped over briefly in Damascus to pick up some 40 Ukrainians before heading for Kiev's Boryspil airport.

The evacuees reached Aleppo airport safely, despite attacks on the access road, said Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki. Most of those evacuated were women married to Syrian men along with their children.

Rome-based World Food Program said it was sending to Aleppo enough emergency food aid for 28,000 people. The UN agency is distributing rations along with its local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Turkey launched a military drill just across the border from a Syrian town it claims is controlled by Kurdish rebels — a show of muscle aimed at Kurdish separatists pushing for autonomy within Turkey's borders.

The Turkish government last week said Turkish Kurdish rebels have seized control of five towns along the border in collaboration with their Syrian counterparts. Turkey alleges that the Kurdish guerrillas they are fighting have taken advantage of the strife in Syria to take refuge there.

The idea that Syria, like northern Iraq, could become a safe haven for Turkish Kurdish rebels is an anathema to Turkey's leaders, who otherwise have been very supportive to the rebels fighting Assad. 

AP

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
football
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Biology Teacher

Main Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Biology Teacher to A Level - Female...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering