Syrian troops continue to march against rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, assaulting fighters in Aleppo. Forces acting under Assad were responsible for at least 120 deaths in Aleppo, the country’s commercial center, and Damascus, the formal capital. Local Coordination Committees, an activist group working within the borders, reported the violence. Rebels have occupied eight of Aleppo’s neighborhoods, and currently control the road leading to the Turkish border, but are being targeted by heavy fire from the military.
Approximately 200,000 people have left Aleppo and the surrounding region as the conflict continues to escalate. Due to the very urban environment and central roads occupied by fighters on both sides, humanitarian groups have struggled to provide aid to displaced families. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes that Assad’s continued use of deadly force will only go to bolster the rebellion against the government.
“It’s pretty clear that Aleppo is another tragic example of the kind of indiscriminate violence that the Assad regime has committed against its own people,” Panetta told reporters yesterday on the eve of a trip to the Middle East. “If they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people, it’ll ultimately be a nail in Assad’s coffin.”
U.S. officials have long believed that the fall of Assad’s government is inevitable, but the regime has taken a much more violent approach than its neighbors to stemming rebellion. Recent rebellions staged in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt set the stage for the Syrian uprising.
Aleppo is also the home to Syria’s air force intelligence headquarters, and has been one of the major hotspots. Smaller villages have also come under fire from Syrian troops and gangs linked to Assad in several regions, including Deir Ezzor, Hama and Lattakia. In a suburb of Damascus, a public execution was staged by Syrian forces, after rebels had fled. Al Jazeera reported that 40 people were executed, including a woman who was beheaded, and that houses were set on fire.
The level of violence seen in Syria, particularly in a densely populated area such as Aleppo, is considered to be approaching the level of war crimes, according to Arab League chief Nabil el-Arabi. While the Obama administration has said it does not plan to intervene in the conflict, it has stood in staunch support of the rebels, providing supplies to certain groups.