POLITICS

Rebels vow to fight on in Aleppo

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Politics,World,Sara A. Carter

Rebel forces say they will continue to fight "until the very end" despite the Syrian Army's stepped-up assault on the nation's largest city of Aleppo, a battle that is being described by experts and U.S. officials as a pivotal point in the 17-month long uprising.

Syrian activists and fleeing residents said President Bashar al-Assad's military is relentlessly bombarding Aleppo with helicopter gunships and fixed wing aircraft.

"The humanitarian situation is getting worse and worse," said Syrian-based activist Abu Ghazi al-Hamwi who called on other nations to intervene.

"We are fed up with the international community saying what they will do in the future. ...We don't see any change on the ground. We are counting on the democracies of the world to help us stop these atrocities and stand up for what they believe in with us."

Activists and rebel fighters say the regime also sent tanks, ground forces and snipers into the city of roughly 2.5 million people. Thousands of its citizens are fleeing across the border into Turkey, creating a humanitarian crisis that threatens the region.

Bruce Riedel, a senior analyst with the Brookings Institution whose advised three presidents on Asia and the Middle East, said the Assad regime is desperate to hold onto Aleppo.

"The battle of Aleppo threatens to turn into a massacre," Riedel told The Examiner. "The Assad regime must retake the city at any cost. Turkey may find itself with a humanitarian and refugee crisis on its front door. How Ankara responds will be crucial."

Late Friday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the international community needs to find a way to address the military assault on Aleppo, and Assad's threat to use chemical weapons against foreign forces.

"There is a build-up in Aleppo, and the recent statements with respect to the use of weapons of mass destruction are actions that we cannot remain an observer or spectator to," said Erdogan during a news conference in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

A U.S. Official, with knowledge of the battle in Aleppo, said "the fight for Syria's second city is important, but it is not clear that it will be a turning point regardless of which side prevails."

While battle is putting great stress on the rebels, the source pointed out, it is also straining the capabilities of the Syrian Army

"Opposition forces need to make the most of their limited strength and equipment," said the official," and they are demonstrating a better ability to coordinate to do so -- but the regime's capabilities are also being stretched."

Defectors have confirmed the deterioration of Assad's army.

"They are running out of rockets" and fuel, Syrian defector Gen. Mohammad Al-Zobi told the Guardian of London this week. "There is scarcely any bread or water for the soldiers."

Al-Hamwi said the Free Syrian Army, activists and rebels will not give up, despite the fact that they are running low on supplies.

"We are never safe, getting the truth to the rest of the world is more important than our lives," he said. "Please listen to us. Stand by our side for freedom and help the innocent from this massacre. We will not give up, do not give up on us."

Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. `She can be reached at scarter@washingtonexaminer.com.

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