Sara Hussein, AFP
Last updated: 21 August, 2012

Aleppo burns as shells fall again on shattered city

Piles of burning rubbish lined the streets of an Aleppo district as a taxi sped through carrying the wounded after yet another day of shelling and fighting in Syria’s battered second city.

Once a bustling city best known for its production and regional export of textiles and foods — and a powerhouse of traditional Arabic music — much of Aleppo was consumed on Tuesday by fighting between rebels and the army, as well as relentless shelling on various rebel-held districts.

“It’s so painful to watch this, not only is our city being destroyed, but so too are our memories,” a resident of Aleppo who identified himself as Abu Hisham told AFP via Skype.

“In almost every family from Aleppo, you’ll find someone has been killed or injured. The whole of my family has been displaced.”

Aleppo has a population of 2.7 million, of whom more than 200,000 were displaced in the first days of the fighting that broke out in the northern hub a month ago.

The Old City is listed by UNESCO as having “outstanding universal value.” But now, everywhere in Aleppo, rubbish piles up in huge heaps, and people often set fire to them, blackening the air, an AFP journalist said.

A month on from the outbreak of what the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has termed would be “the mother of all battles,” heavy shelling and new fighting broke out across several districts of Aleppo on Tuesday.

At least 10 civilians, including two children and three women, were reported killed in Aleppo on Tuesday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A top rebel Free Syrian Army commander, Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, said the rebels now hold sway in more than 30 districts of Aleppo.

“We now control more than 60 percent of the city of Aleppo, and each day we take control of new districts,” Okaidi said. “The people are with us… How else do you think we could have lasted a month?”

But a security source in Damascus has dismissed the claims. “This is completely false,” the source told AFP. “The terrorists are not advancing, it is the army that is making slow progress.”

The source said the army was bombarding rebel weapons stocks in the Aleppo region to prevent them from reaching those fighting in the city.

“Reinforcements from both sides are heading to Aleppo. It is a war that will last a long time,” he said.

In the eastern rebel-held areas of Sakhur and Shaar, the FSA has set up command posts.

In Shaar, a taxi sped through the district’s main roundabout, carrying wounded people, while rebels tried to shoot at a helicopter flying overhead in the eastern district of Qadi Askar, where at least 10 people were killed by army shelling on Thursday while waiting in line for bread at a bakery.

Fighting also raged in the district of Jdaide, home to some of Aleppo’s most beautiful traditional houses and where rebels destroyed two army tanks on Tuesday, as well as Salaheddin, which both the FSA and the army covet for its symbolic importance.

Fresh clashes also broke out in the central district of Suleyman al-Halabi, where Japanese journalist Mika Yamamoto was shot dead on Monday, activists told AFP via Skype.

“We don’t know how long the battles will continue,” said Abu Hisham.

“They have planes, while the rebels are destroying the army’s tanks. We understand, but those tanks, they don’t belong to Assad: they belong to the Syrian people.”