Syrian activists report helicopter bombardment and violent clashes amid deep international co
Forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, have launched ground and air attacks against rebel-held districts in the city of Aleppo, opposition activists report.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information on the uprising against Assad, reported helicopter attacks on a central district of Aleppo, the country’s commercial hub, and violent clashes elsewhere in the city.
“Helicopters are participating in clashes at the entrance of Salaheddine district and bombarding it,” the group said in an emailed statement on Saturday. “There are also violent clashes at the entrances to Sakhour district.”
Many casualties have been reported, and vehicles are carrying families out of the city to escape the bombardment.
The Syrian government is fighting to retain control in Aleppo and Damascus, where its power has been challenged by small groups of fighters.
Three rebel fighters were killed in clashes between midnight and dawn on Saturday in Aleppo, the Observatory said. It said 160 people were reported killed in Syria on Friday, adding to an overall death toll of around 18,000 since the uprising began 16 months ago.
Video footage provided by the Observatory showed smoke rising over apartment blocks in the city into a hazy sky on Saturday. The sound of sporadic gunfire could be clearly heard.
The intensification in the fighting around Syria’s second and most populous city came after a warning by the Turkish government that it could not remain a spectator to its neighbour’s civil war.
The prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said late on Friday that international institutions needed to work together to address Syria’s military assault on Aleppo and Assad’s threat to use chemical weapons.
“There is a buildup in Aleppo, and the recent statements with respect to the use of weapons of mass destruction are actions that we cannot remain an observer or spectator to,” he said at a news conference in London with David Cameron.
“Steps need to be taken jointly within the United Nations security council, the Organisation of Islamic Countries, the Arab League, and we must work together to try to overcome the situation,” he said.
Shortly after his comments, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, urged both Syrian government forces and rebels to spare civilians in Aleppo, voicing deep concern at the “likelihood of an imminent major confrontation” in the city reminiscent of other deadly assaults.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he was deeply concerned about reports that Syria could use chemical weapons and demanded a government pledge that they would not be used “under any circumstances”.ncern at Assad threat to use chemical weapons