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Syria: Battle for Aleppo (LIVE BLOG)

The fight between Syrian rebels and the regime for key areas of Aleppo is intensifying, with regime forces overtaking key districts in Syria's main commercial hub.

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A Free Syrian Army fighter speaks into a radio on 10th Street, the front line of clashes between rebels and regime forces in the neighborhood of Salahadin, in Aleppo, Syria on July 31, 2012. Almost all of the estimated 200,000 residents of Salahadin have fled to other areas of the city for safety. (Nicole Tung/GlobalPost)

This live blog has ended. Please visit the Syria page for the latest on events in Syria from GlobalPost.

GLOBALPOST SYRIA LIVE BLOG

UPDATE: 8/10/12 2:35 PM ET

The video below was posted to Twitter by a user who describes themself as a "liberal secularist," "fighting against the Assad family criminal mafia." The video's origin was not independently verified, but purports to show the yield from a weapons capture by the FSA in Aleppo.

Tha Associated Press noted today that:

"Syrian rebels were running low on ammunition and guns Friday as government forces tried to consolidate their control over Aleppo, the country's largest city, which has been a deadly battleground for more than two weeks."

The New York Times noted that government forces in Aleppo "were backed by jets, helicopters, artillery and tanks."

UPDATE: 8/10/12 1:41 PM ET

Tea and Tanks: Life with a rebel unit in northern Syria

Free Syrian Army bullets

Tracey Shelton reports for GlobalPost from inside a tight-knit group of Free Syrian Army soldiers waging war against Bashar al-Assad's regime in Jabal al-Zawiya, Syria.

In an account of her time traveling with a rebel unit in Syria earlier this year, Shelton writes of the fighters she met and her own experience reporting on the conflict.

"....The first gunman was Khalid, a veteran sniper trained by the Syrian regime in Damascus. Since turning his skills against his former employer when he defected 9 months ago, Khalid boasted he had killed 55 of President Bashar al-Assad’s men. This jolly father of five seemed an unlikely assassin, but his calm, precise movements were ever-reliable, his pleasant, cheerful manner never wavering."

Continue reading Shelton's account here

UPDATE: 8/10/12 11:46 AM ET

New pledges of aid, sanctions as fighting rages

Intense fighting continues today in Aleppo, The New York Times reported:

"Government forces backed by jets, helicopters, artillery and tanks were reported on Friday to have resumed their pursuit of rebels in embattled Aleppo who claimed to be counterattacking in cat-and-mouse fighting after pulling back from the most contested area of the city."

About 6,000 Syrians fleeing the conflict have arrived in Turkey over the last week, bringing the registered refugee population there to more than 50,000, a UN refugy agency spokesman told the Times. Nearly 100,000 additional refugees have fled Syria for Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, the agency told the Times.

As the battle for the key Syrian city of Aleppo continues, international actors are stepping in with new pledges of aid and fresh sanctions.

Aid:

The Guardian reports that the UK will supply rebel forces with about $6.1 million worth of non-lethal assistance. Bloomberg reported that the aid might include "medical supplies, communications equipment and body armor."

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, has announced an extra £5m in "non-lethal practical assistance" for "the Syrian people and political opposition."

The US will also boost humanitarian relief to Syrians fleeing the country, the Associated Press reported. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce an additional $5.5 million in US humanitarian aid tomorrow during talks in Turkey, according to the AP.

Sanctions:

The Associated Press cited anonymous officials traveling with Clinton to report that:

"The Obama administration is readying new sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and its allies as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heads to Turkey for weekend talks with top Turkish officials and Syrian opposition activists.

Senior U.S. officials traveling with Clinton as she wraps up a nine-nation Africa tour in Ghana and Benin before flying to Turkey on Friday said the fresh sanctions aimed at hastening Assad's ouster were imminent."

UPDATE: 8/10/12 9:51 AM ET

Lakhdar Brahimi expected to replace Annan in Syria

Veteran diplomat and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is expected to be named as the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, the BBC reported. He would succeed Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general who resigned his post as envoy to Syria last week.

The Associated Press reported that other candidates were being considered for the post, though Brahimi, based on reports, appears to be the most likely choice. An announcement confirming a new envoy could come as soon as next week, diplomats told the AP.

Annan, who will leave his envoy assignment at the end of this month, spent five months trying to implement a peace plan in Syria. Lack of international support for his efforts — namely, disageement within the UN's Security Council — as well as unwillingness from parties in Syria to comply with proposed terms stalled attempts to end the 17-month Syria conflict. Rebels say more than 20,000 people have been killed, according to AFP.

UPDATE: 8/9/12 6:11 PM ET

Iran reportedly pushing for peace talks in Syria

Iran supports moves to start peace talks between the Syrian regime and opposition groups, AFP reports. The country hosted a 29-nation conference in Tehran today to discuss the conflict.

According to AFP:

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters after the meeting that “a major part of the opposition has announced that it is ready to negotiate with the Syrian government in Tehran without any preconditions.”

But there was no confirmation from the Syrian opposition, which, like Syria’s government, did not attend the Tehran conference.

UPDATE: 8/9/12 4:50 PM ET

Experts suggest cautious approach to US intervention in Syria, warn of threats from Iran, jihadists

There are no easy solutions to the conflict in Syria, experts said today in a conference call with reporters.

Two fellows from The Council on Foreign Relations pushed for a cautious approach to US intervention.

"It's still not clear that the enemy of our enemy is our friend, so it's still hard to ally with the parties in Syria," said Robert Danin, a Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa studies, referring to the Free Syrian Army rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime. "Those who were calling for us to provide sophisticated arms to the rebels, I think we really have to think twice."

He added later: "In any case, I think we're heading toward greater intervention whether we like it or not. And let's face it. The administration doesn't want to commit itself to something dramatic before November."

Read more of Amy Silverstein's report of the conversation for GlobalPost

UPDATE: 8/9/12 2:45 PM ET

Regional updates:

Iranian hostages all alive

The 48 Iranians who were taken hostage by Syrian rebels last week are all alive, an official in Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed, according to Reuters.

The rebels, who kidnapped a busload of Iranians in Damascus on August 4 on the suspicion that they were assisting the Syrian regime, claimed on Monday that three of the hostages had been killed in an air attack by the government. The rebels had also threatened to kill those still alive if army attacks did not cease, Reuters reported. Iran admitted yesterday that some of the hostages are retired members of the country's powerful Revolutionary Guards.

Read more here

US planning for "day after" Assad

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prepares to hold emergency talks on Syria this weekend in Turkey, the US and its allies are looking ahead to the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. According to Reuters, the upcoming emergency talks are expected to focus, in part, on the anticipated period right after Assad leaves office.

The Washington Post reported Clinton suggested on Tuesday that the US was accelerating plans what she called “the day after.”

Read more here

New PM in Syria

Syria's third prime minister in four days has been appointed, the Guardian reported. Wael al-Halki, formerly Syria's health minister, replaced prime minister Riyad Hijab, who defected this week. Omar Ghalawanji had been appointed as "caretaker prime minister" on Monday, Syrian state media reported.

UPDATE: 8/9/12 1:06 PM ET

Rebels have lost Salahadin, Saif al-Dawla; pulling out of Bustan al-Qesr

GlobalPost correspondent James Foley confirmed that the Free Syrian Army has pulled out of Salahadin, where one of the fiercest fights in Aleppo had raged between rebels and the army. The Guardian's Martin Chulov also confirmed that the FSA had withdrawn all their units from the district.

The FSA has also pulled out of the neighborhood of Saif al-Dawla, and is in the process of withdrawing from Bustan al-Qesr, Foley reports.

Regime troops are on the ground in Salahadin.

An activist told Foley that buses of Syrian army soldiers are now entering Aleppo. The same activist described the current feeling in the center of Aleppo as the "quiet before storm."

UPDATE: 8/9/12 10:12 AM ET

Rebels lose Salahadin: report

The BBC is reporting that Free Syrian Army rebels have confirmed their withdrawal from Salahadin, a key district in the fight for Aleppo. Syrian state media report that the army is fully controlling the district, after bringing "heavy losses on hundreds of 'terrorist mercenaries'," according to the BBC.

The gain for the regime in Aleppo comes as a new prime minister has been appointed in Damascus to replace former prime minister Riad Hijab, who defected on Sunday.

UPDATE: 8/9/12 9:42 AM ET

Most of FSA withdrawing in Salahadin, Bustan al Qasr

GlobalPost correspondent James Foley has tweeted updates this morning on continuing battles in Aleppo between regime forces and rebel fighters. Foley reported hearing "heavy aerial bombardment," and cites reports from an activist who was in Salahadin that almost all Free Syrian Army forces have pulled out of the district.

UPDATE: 8/9/12 7:11 AM ET

Russia has indicated that it will attend a hastily-called meeting in Iran on the crisis in Syria today, provided the "meeting in Tehran really takes place," Reuters cited the Russian foreign ministry as saying.

Russia said its Iran envoy, Levan Dzhagaryan, would attend the Syria session after receiving a rather last-minute invitation. 

"Naturally, we intend to firmly pursue our line [calling for] an immediate end to bloodshed and the suffering of the civilian population, as well as for achieving a peaceful resolution in the interest of all Syrians through a broad political dialogue," the foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Russia and Iran, both longtime allies of the Syrian government, have resisted calls to pressure Assad into giving up power by way of international sanctions, arguing that the transition of power must come from Syrians themselves. 

Iran has billed the event as an attempt to resuscitate the peace plan put forth by international envoy Kofi Annan before he resigned, a framework that paved the way for a transition of power and sought to end the fighting.

However, only states with what Iran's foreign ministry termed a "realistic position" on the issue were invited, said Al Arabiya, presumably ruling out governments at odds with Iran's anti-interventionist stance. 

Iranian media claimed that today's meeting will be attended by representatives from China, Algeria, Tajikistan, Venezuela, Pakistan, India and six members of the Arab League, said Reuters. The reports have not been idependently confirmed.

UPDATE: 8/8/12 3:44 PM ET

FSA captain warns of "big fight" in Aleppo tonight (GRAPHIC VIDEO)

A Free Syrian Army captain in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qesr told GlobalPost's James Foley that his battalion is moving back into Salahadin — which has seen some of the most intense fighting in Aleppo — this evening.

"There will be a big fight there tonight," the captain said. Reports have said that groups of rebels in Aleppo have been forced to retreat in recent hours because of the Syrian regime's stepped-up ground assault.

The fight for Aleppo began about three weeks ago, on the first day of Ramadan. There are no solid estimates of numbers killed, but activists estimate at least 300 have died.

"The fighting continues day and night. Both sides are sending in reinforcements. The price may be the destruction of Syria's most populous city," Foley says.

GlobalPost's James Foley shot dramatic video, below, of the battle for Syria's biggest city.

Editor's note: this video contains graphic images of conflict.

 

UPDATE: 8/8/12 1:01 PM ET

Five FSA fighters killed in Salahadin as regime shelling continues

Five Free Syrian Army fighters have been killed today in Salahadin, Aleppo, a fighter has told GlobalPost reporter James Foley.

Four to five regime tanks in the center Salahadin continue to shell the neighborhood, Foley reports, as rebel fighters try to counterattack from alleyways.

The Syrian regime's ground assualt has pushed some rebel forces, low on ammunition, from areas of Aleppo, The New York Times reported. According to the Times:

Residents who had not fled the city reported receiving text messages on their cellphones in the morning asking them to cooperate with the government. One text, signed by the Syrian Army, read: “Dear brothers, informing about terrorists means you are saving yourself and your family.”

UPDATE: 8/8/12 11:01 AM ET

Battle for Aleppo rages as regime tanks roll in

GlobalPost reporter James Foley said that regime tanks had moved into the restive neighborhood of Salahadin, in Aleppo, on Wednesday morning, as fighting intensified.

Syrian state media declared that regime forces had taken control of the key district in Aleppo, according to the BBC. But Foley, who was in Aleppo, says the battle is not yet won, although the rebels have lost ground in what was Syria's main commerical hub.

Have the rebels retreated, we asked him?

"Not so far. Still have positions on 10th and 15th streets. But about 4 tanks reported in main square area. Saw two speed by."

UPDATE: 8/8/12 10:11 AM ET

Syrian rebels battle for Aleppo (GRAPHIC VIDEO)

As fighter jets haunt the skies, rebels deploy guerilla tactics, and civilians get caught in the crossfire. Women and children are among the victims of the Assad regime's urban shelling. GlobalPost's James Foley shot this dramatic video of the battle for Syria's largest metropolis.

Editor's note: this video contains graphic images of conflict.

 

UPDATE: 8/8/12 11:00 AM ET

Turkey and Iran's war of words on Syria

The Turkish Foreign Ministry is strongly condemning comments made by Hassan Firouzabadi, a top Iranian army officer, who blamed Ankara for the violence in Syria and claimed that Turkey would be next.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Reuters, “Such statements have the potential to harm Iran as well."

Davutoglu added that the Turkish government had clearly explained their position to Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, adding, “We would expect these officials, both in Turkey and Iran, to think a few times before making any comments. Our position on the issue was explained to Mr. Salehi in a frank and friendly manner."

Read more here

UPDATE: 8/8/12 6:00 AM ET

Syria: The Battle for Aleppo (PHOTOS)

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A fighter from the Free Syrian Army lays injured by a piece of shrapnel after a Syrian army tank fired on 10th Street, which separates the rebels and the regime in Salahadin, Aleppo, on July 31, 2012. Almost all of Salahadin's estimated 200,000 residents have fled to other areas of Aleppo for safety.
(Nicole Tung - GlobalPost)

Photos by reporter Nicole Tung show the Free Syrian Army attempting quick, guerilla-style attacks in the heart of Aleppo to grab territory from the Assad regime, whose heavy weapons are less nimble.

Rebels have held several key neighborhoods in the southwest, pushing all the way to the gates of the city’s famed citadel. But regime airstrikes have prevented decisive blows in the two-week battle, and Assad's forces are claiming heavy rebel casualties in a ground offensive launched Wednesday on these neighborhoods.

See the full photo gallery here.

UPDATE: 8/7/12 1:59 PM ET

Inside Syria: Arab Spring no more

As bombs rain down on Aleppo, Syria’s 17-month-old conflict has entered a new and dangerous phase.

Born of an Arab Spring-inspired desire for greater democracy, experts say that powerful geopolitical forces are now driving the war, with implications across the Middle East.

GlobalPost Senior Editor David Case turned to Marius Deeb, Professorial Lecturer in Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, for an explanation of how the conflict is morphing into a proxy war.

Read more here

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/120808/syria-battle-aleppo-live-blog