BEIRUT: Damascus and Syria’s second biggest city, Aleppo, came under shell fire yesterday as troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad stepped up efforts to crush rebels.
And one of the most senior figures to defect from Assad’s inner circle, Brigadier- General Manaf Tlas, volunteered to help unite the opposition inside and outside Syria discuss a blueprint for a transfer of power.
A bomb attack that killed four of Assad’s lieutenants last week prompted predictions among his enemies that the 46-year-old president’s time in power was drawing to a close.
But in the days that followed, Assad’s forces toughened their response to the armed revolt, with combat aircraft seen in action over Aleppo and rebel fighters said by opposition sources to have been summarily executed.
Residents in the capital reported a shell landing every minute yesterday.
Helicopters were attacking the Hajar-al-Aswad district, one of the last rebel strongholds in the city after days of street fighting, opposition activists said.
After a large assault on rebels in Damascus last week, the army has turned to Aleppo, reinforcing troops there.
Activists said 24 people were killed in fighting in and around Aleppo on Wednesday.
In the Syrian capital, a resident in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp reported heavy shelling.
She said the army seemed to be targeting sites on the edges of the camp, firing shells every minute. The bombardment started at about 4am local time and was still going three hours later.
Tlas said he had not defected from Syria to play a leadership role.
“I left (Syria)… to try to help the best I can to unite the honourable people inside and outside Syria to set out a road map to get Syria out of this crisis.” – Reuters