President Assad has spoken out about the battle for Aleppo, emphasizing the importance of the outcome. Fighting in the city has shown no sign of subsiding overnight, with rebels claiming to be the stronger side.
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday publicly highlighted the decisive importance of the current battle between government and opposition forces in Aleppo, claiming the country's fate depends on it.
"The fate of our people and our nation, past, present and future, depends on this battle," said Assad, in a written statement. Assad has not spoken in public since four of his leading security officials were killed two weeks ago.
Assad said the army had proved in its battle against "terrorist criminal gangs" that it has a "steely resolve and conscience," and is the trustee "of the people's values."
"My trust in you is great, and the trust of our people in you that you are ... the defender of its just causes," Assad said.
Aleppo fight continues
Syrian combat aircraft and artillery were heard attacking the city's eastern districts late into the night; first attack helicopters and then MiG warplanes.
The rebels now say that they control an arc covering eastern and southwestern swathes of the city and that government troops have been forced to withdraw. Fighting was especially fierce in the Salaheddine district in the southwest, where shells rained down for several hours.
"The regime has tried for three days to regain Salaheddine, but its attempts have failed and it has suffered heavy losses in human life, weapons and tanks, and it has been forced to withdraw," said Colonel Abdel-Jabbar al-Oqaidi, who heads the Joint Military Council, one of Aleppo's several rebel groups.
Preparing for another resolution
Meanwhile, in diplomatic circles the UN General Assembly yet again said it would hold a meeting on the Syria situation, scheduled for 10 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) on Thursday.
The Security Council is then expected to vote on a Saudi-drafted resolution that strongly criticizes the Security Council's inaction so far on Syria. The Saudi draft also appeals to Assad to step down.
Western envoys are reported to have said that the condemnation is directed at Russia and China; both powers have vetoed resolutions against Syria in the past, most recently on July 19.
Caught in the crossfire
Concern about the plight of thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire is also rising. 18,000 people in Aleppo have been displaced, according to the UN refugee agency in Geneva. And, on Wednesday, Amnesty International released a report on the Syria crisis entitled All-Out Repression.
"The current onslaught on the city of Aleppo, which puts civilians even more at grave risk, is a predictable development which follows the disturbing pattern of abuses by state forces across the country," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser.
The paper accuses the regime of crimes against humanity and calls on the UN to take tangible steps to put pressure on Assad's government. It recommended asset freezes applicable to Syria's leaders, an arms embargo and referral to the International Criminal Court.
A video posted on YouTube, meanwhile, allegedly shows human rights abuses committed by Syrian rebels. In the video, four men are identified as members of the pro-Assad "shabiha" militia who come from the al-Berri tribe. They are then summarily executed in a barrage of gunfire.
sej,slk/ccp (Reuters, dpa)