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Fighting rages on in Syria's Aleppo

September 29, 2012

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A picture taken on September 28, 2012 shows damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo following months of clashes and battles between Syrian rebels and government forces. — Photo by AFP

ALEPPO: Fighting raged in a strategic district of Syria's commercial capital Aleppo on Saturday, the third day of an all-out rebel offensive to seize the city, monitors said.

The focal point of combat was Salaheddin, a rebel stronghold on the southwest side of the city where insurgents attacked an army position, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Elsewhere in the country, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled localities in the southern province of Daraa, where fighting was also taking place, as well as in Deir Ezzor in the east and the capital itself.

At least six soldiers were killed in Daraa, while four civilians died in the Deir Ezzor shelling and two rebels were killed. An unspecified number of people were wounded in Damascus.

In the Aleppo province locality of Maskana, a year-old baby died, and his mother and brother were wounded by shelling.

On Friday, residents of Aleppo neighbourhoods previously spared the worst of the two-month-old battle for the northern city told AFP the violence was unprecedented, but the offensive had stalled.

“The sound from the fighting...has been non-stop,” said a resident of the central district of Sulamaniyeh, who identified himself as Ziad.

“Everyone is terrified. I have never heard anything like this before.”

Rebels said they had advanced on several fronts, particularly in the southwest, but admitted they had failed to make any significant breakthrough.

Abu Furat, a commander of the Al-Tawhid Brigade, the most important in the city, summed up their problem.

“To win a guerrilla street war, you have to have bombs and we don't.”

The Britain-based Observatory said the intensity of Friday's fighting in Aleppo had been unprecedented.

Yet it was not yielding major gains for either side, said the Observatory's head Rami Abdel Rahman.

“Neither the regime nor the rebels are able to gain a decisive advantage,” he said, and by Friday afternoon the intensity of fighting had abated.

Across the country, at least 117 people had been killed on Friday, 71 of them civilians, the Observatory said.

In New York, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a total of $45 million (35 million euros) in new funding for humanitarian aid and to help Syria's civilian opposition.

Some $30 million would go towards aid, bumping up the total US funding for humanitarian relief to $130 million, with a further $15 million for the civilian opposition, she told a meeting of the Friends of Syria.

Washington has stuck by its refusal to provide arms and military support to the rebels, fearing it would further complicate the situation on the ground.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed Britain was adding #8 million ($12.9 million/10 million euros) to the #30.5 million it had already given in humanitarian aid.

US attacks Iran role in conflict

Clinton also attacked Iran's role in the conflict.

“There is no longer any doubt that Iran will do whatever it takes to protect its proxy and crony in Damascus,” she told the Friends of Syria meeting.

But in a speech to the UN General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed Western powers for obstructing an international solution to the crisis.

He insisted that Geneva accords adopted on June 30, which do not call for Assad to step down, should be the basis of any transition plan and claimed that Western powers had rejected this.

Russia has been heavily criticised at this week's UN General Assembly by countries that accuse it of thwarting efforts to halt the civil war by using its veto to quash resolutions targeting the Damascus regime.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League leader Nabil al-Arabi expressed concerns the country could become a “regional battleground”.

In Washington, US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta said the Assad regime had moved some chemical weapons to safeguard the material.

He added: “We still believe, based on what we know and what we're monitoring, that the principal sites remain secure.”

Aid agencies have expressed concern at the growing refugee crisis.

About one million to 1.5 million people are internally displaced, with a further 300,000 having slipped into the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, according to UN estimates.

Earlier this week, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, Jordan's King Abdullah II thanked the international community for helping his kingdom host Syrian refugees.

“The sombre reality is, however, that more will be needed, as the camps grow more crowded with vulnerable families and the cold desert winter approaches,” he warned.