Violence erupts in Syria's second largest city as helicopter gunships bombard Damascus
Luke Harding and Martin Chulov in Beirut and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 22 July 2012
"Free Syrian Army fighters battled government troops near the main intelligence base in the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday as helicopter gunships bombarded Damascus in an effort to drive out insurgents, witnesses said.
Fighting raged in other parts of Aleppo, Syria's second largest city, and demonstrators defaced overnight a statue of Assad's father, the late president Hafez al-Assad, in the central Shahba area, breaking off parts of the stone edifice, according to a video taken by activists.
"Sounds of explosions from different areas are shaking the whole city. A heavy exchange of gunfire has been going on near the state security headquarters in al-Mouhafaza since the morning," a resident there told Reuters by telephone.
Opposition sources said fighters from rural areas around Aleppo had been converging on the city of 3 million people near the border with Turkey. The rebel Tawhid Battalion said in a video statement that a battle to "liberate Aleppo" had begun.....
Assad's forces continue to control key cities, at least during the day, but have lost much of the rural hinterland. The FSA has been able to capture a series of border posts with Turkey and Iraq, further puncturing the regime's authority, and controls large areas of the northern and eastern periphery.....
In a further sign of rapid regime erosion, four more army brigadiers were said to have crossed into Turkey, bringing the number of senior military defectors there to about 100. Another brigadier, Adelnasser Ferzat, defected to FSA fighters in Aleppo, it was claimed. In a video address in fluent Russian, he urges Moscow to dump Assad and back "freedom" and the rebels' side....."