US fears Syria preparing for massacre in Aleppo

Fri Jul 27, 2012 9:44am GMT
 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Mariam Karouny

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - The United States said it feared a massacre in Aleppo after President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched ground and air bombardments in preparation for a major onslaught against rebels in Syria's commercial capital.

Insurgents targeted army roadblocks and security installations, with both sides avoiding close-quarters warfare in the northern city of 2.5 million people, Syria's biggest urban centre.

The U.S. State Department said credible reports of tank columns moving on Aleppo, along with air strikes by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, represented a serious escalation of Assad's efforts to crush a rebellion that began 16 months ago.

"This is the concern: that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that's what the regime appears to be lining up for," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Troops stationed on the outskirts of the city unleashed barrages of heavy-calibre mortar rounds on the western neighbourhoods of Saladin, al-Sukkari and al-Fardos, while Russian-built MI-25 helicopter gunships struck al-Sakhour in the east with rockets, opposition activists in the city said.

The heavy fighting around Aleppo follows an audacious bomb attack that killed four of Assad's closest lieutenants in Damascus on July 18 and led some analysts to speculate that the government's grip was slipping.

RISING CASUALTIES

In the first reported casualty on Friday, a man of about 60 wearing a traditional white prayer outfit was killed near a park in Saladin. His body was placed in a mosque pending identification.   Continued...

A Syrian civilian walks along a destroyed street in Azaz, northern Syria, July 25, 2012. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
 
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