31 Oct 2012 As Syria Escalates Bombing, U.S. Urges New Anti-Assad Bloc
By HANIA MOURTADA, HWAIDA SAAD and MICHAEL R. GORDON
Published: October 31, 2012
the country, as well as in the suburbs of Damascus, .BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian Air Force escalated its bombing campaign against the rebellion on Wednesday, activists reported, as the United States signaled growing impatience with the failure of the Syrian opposition-in-exile to form a cohesive leadership and said it would support a more robust and organized movement to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Their assertions coincided with news that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had proposed a newly revamped coalition of anti-Assad groups to supplant the Syrian National Council, the largely ineffective political opposition based outside the country that includes aging figures who have not been inside Syria for decades.
She said the new coalition should include anti-Assad fighters but exclude the Islamist extremist elements that have joined the battle to topple Mr. Assad. Mrs. Clinton said the presence in Syria of the Islamist elements, some of which have been linked to Al Qaeda, was part of what she called an opportunistic attempt to hijack a legitimate rebellion.
“There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying in Syria today to obtain their freedom,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters during a trip to Croatia. “And there needs to be an opposition leadership structure that is dedicated to representing and protecting all Syrians.”
Mrs. Clinton, who has played a prominent role in promoting the Syrian opposition with nonmilitary aid, did not object to the participation of the Syrian National Council in a newly organized anti-Assad coalition, which she hoped to advance at a meeting next week in Doha, Qatar. But Mrs. Clinton said “this cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes, but in many instances have not been inside Syhria for 20, 30 or 40 years.”
In Idlib Province, in northern Syria, the air offensive intensified against the key crossroads of Maarat al-Noaman, which the rebels captured in early October and which the Syrian military has periodically pounded with bombs since then. Located in the middle of the supply route between Syria’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, Maarat al-Noaman is indispensable to the Syrian government.
As the two sides wrestle to control it, activists warned that a humanitarian crisis was looming. “Most residents of this area have been displaced,” said Ahmad Kadour, a spokesman for the rebels in the area. “It’s very cold, there is no heating and the most essential nutritional supplies have completely stopped. We can’t even get bread.”
Given the random shelling, the ill-equipped first aid stations are struggling to treat wounded civilians, he said. “There is an alarming lack of medical staff, and these hospitals can’t handle serious cases such as microsurgery, head injuries and amputations,” he said, speaking via Skype.
Also in the north, activists said the military dropped barrel bombs — old storage tanks or metal cylinders packed with explosives — from a helicopter, hitting a bakery in Atareb, west of Aleppo. “I saw pieces of bodies flying in the air,” said Aboul Haytham, an activist who said he was close to the bakery when the attack took place. Many of the victims were taken to Turkey because the local hospital could not handle them, he said.
The bakery, the only one in town, served thousands of people, he said.
Army units were staging raids on rebel hide-outs in and around Aleppo, reported SANA, the official Syrian news agency, inflicting heavy losses in men and matériel.
Around Damascus, warplanes attacked the eastern Ghouta district, an agricultural belt where fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army concentrate, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a rebel organization that tracks the conflict from Britain.
Several videos posted by activists showed black clouds of smoke billowing from the town of Saqba, after warplanes purportedly bombed residential neighborhoods and factories there. The videos could not be independently verified.
“Look at this! Arabs and the rest of the world, look at this shelling, which has been taking place for 10 days straight,” a man could be heard yelling out of camera range.
The Free Syrian Army, however, insisted that the government’s ground forces had managed to advance only a few yards in the area. “Regime forces are desperately trying to regain control of eastern Ghouta,” said Abu Ghazi, an activist. Government soldiers have failed to retake the towns of Irbeen and Harasta despite subjecting them to continuous airstrikes, he said.
In the town of Zamalka, 15 residents died and many more were wounded in two air raids targeting the downtown area, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group that tracks the violence.
In a related development, several Damascus residents complained that the number of jets and helicopters hovering overhead in the past few days had been unusually high, while security measures designed to weed out members or supporters of the rebel forces have increased to the point of paralyzing commerce.
Moaz, an activist in Damascus, said government troops had erected several checkpoints outside shops and the once-crowded cafes in the commercial area of Al Bohsa, known for its concentration of electronics shops, and in adjacent neighborhoods.
“Traders are sitting outside their shops doing nothing,” he said, with owners of sidewalk cafes taking in their tables.
In another Damascus development, a bomb exploded near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, a sacred pilgrimage shrine for Shiite Muslims that is in an eastern suburb of Damascus. Accounts of the attack by the Syrian Observatory and Ad Dounia, a private satellite channel close to the government, differed.
An explosive device planted in a motorcycle detonated near a hotel by the shrine, killing eight people and wounding many more, the observatory said. But the television report said there were two bombs, one planted in a garbage can and a second that was dismantled before it exploded. SANA said six people were killed and 13 injured in the Sayyida Zeinab attack after an “armed terrorist group” planted a bomb in a garbage bag.
Source: The New York Times