Assad forces on attack

 16 Sep 2013 - 2:35


Free Syrian Army fighters gather before heading to fight in Aleppo’s district of Salaheddine.

BEIRUT: Syrian warplanes and artillery bombarded rebel suburbs of the capital yesterday after the United States agreed to call off military action in a deal with Russia to remove President Bashar Al Assad’s chemical weapons.

Syrian rebels, calling the international focus on poison gas a sideshow, dismissed talk the arms pact might herald peace talks and said Assad had stepped up an offensive with ordinary weaponry now that the threat of US air strikes had receded.

Assad’s key sponsor Iran hailed a US retreat from “extremist behaviour” and welcomed its “rationality”. 

Air strikes, shelling and infantry attacks on suburbs of Damascus through yesterday morning offered evidence in support of opinions from both Assad’s Syrian opponents and supporters that he is again taking the fight to rebels after a lull following the August 21 gas attack that provoked the threat of US action.

“It’s a clever proposal from Russia to prevent the attacks,” one Assad supporter said from the port of Tartous, site of a Russian naval base. “Russia will give us new weapons that are better than chemical weapons,” he added. “We are strong enough to save our power and fight the terrorists.”

An opposition activist in Damascus echoed disappointment among rebel leaders: “Helping Syrians would mean stopping the bloodshed,” he said. 

Rebel fighters have expressed disdain for US President Barack Obama after he backed away from striking over alleged chemical weapons attacks, saying the world does not care about Syria.

“America told the world it would bomb Syria and then, when the time came, it got scared,” said Abdelqaderi Asasheh, operations chief of the Liwa Al Tawhid brigade in Aleppo.

Abu Tawfiqa, a commander of the Liwa Al Fatah brigade, said “we don’t want an attack, but if it happens the United States will find a very powerful ally on the ground.”

Abu Feras, spokesman for Al Tawhid, said “the international community doesn’t care what happens to Syria. If it really did it would have intervened a long time ago.”

Fighting on the ground in a country divided between rebel and government forces shows little sign of slowing its descent into atrocity, with 1,000 people dying in any typical week.

There was heavy fighting overnight in Jobar, a rebel-held area just east of downtown Damascus, opposition activists from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday. Residents counted three air strikes on neighbouring Barzeh and there were clashes in other parts of the metropolis, too.