(di Hadeel Al Shalchi, Reuters). Syrian rebels trying to fight off an army offensive in Aleppo said on Tuesday they were running low on bullets as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces encircled their stronghold at the southern entrance to the country’s biggest city.
“We don’t have enough ammunition to send to the front line,” said Abu Jamil, a rebel fighter and part of the opposition force trying to defend positions in a city whose fate could shape the course of the uprising against Assad’s rule. Gaping holes in buildings and rubble-strewn streets in Salaheddine, a main theatre for the fighting, were clear signs of the intensified government offensive that has drawn on air power and heavy artillery.
Where rebels casually had sipped tea under shop awnings last week, they sought shelter in the doorways of abandoned homes and ran to dodge bullets on Tuesday. Some fighters hastily packed cars with rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs, wires poking out of them, apparently getting ready to move on.
The rebels are fighting to defend positions including Salaheddine from government forces trying to advance along the main highway leading into the city from the southwest. Parts of the ancient city have not seen any fighting at all. “Every day the attacks from the Syrian army are getting more vicious,” said Sheikh Tawfiq, a rebel commander, speaking at an abandoned home serving as a temporary outpost for him and his men, who were using ammunition boxes as makeshift chairs.
Around them were reminders that this was until recently someone’s home: a television, a computer and a carpet rolled up for the summer months and stored in the corner. Many of Aleppo’s residents have fled. “The regime believes that it will be a great embarrassment if it is unable to break through Salaheddine … This is the gateway to Aleppo, if it can enter from this area then all the liberated police stations, checkpoints and others inside Aleppo will be under their control,” he said.
A Reuters journalist saw two men screaming in pain and bleeding heavily from wounds inflicted by a tank shell. Assad’s forces escalated their campaign to regain control of Aleppo, an ancient city near Syria’s border with Turkey, late last week.
The air and ground bombardment of Aleppo has killed 70 people in the last 24 hours, according to a statement by the Aleppo General Revolution Assembly, an opposition group, adding that it had the names of the dead. The toll could not be independently verified. The bodies of 10 prisoners, detained at a secret police facility on the edge of the city, had also been found, their hands bound behind their backs and shot execution style, it said.
“You hear the jets then the earth shakes when their rockets hit the ground. They explosions are in barrages of 15 at a time, followed by silence, then another barrage,” said a housewife taking shelter in the upmarket Mogambo residential district. Abu Ali, another rebel commander, told Reuters that poor communications and heavy shelling were making it harder to send reinforcements to the frontline.
Assad’s tanks had been advancing and shelling rebel positions before retreating, he added. The Free Syrian Army – a loose alliance of armed rebel groups – had set up more checkpoints overnight on roads leading into Aleppo. But the fighters manning them appeared to know little about what was going on a few hundred metres (yards) from their own station.
Rebel fighters said Assad’s forces had started to erect their own checkpoints in parts of Aleppo. A doctor treating the wounded in Salaheddine said he was seeing an average of five dead and 25 wounded people per day. Two had been killed on Tuesday, added the visibly exhausted medic, who spoke on condition of anonymity.