Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Largest City Is Front Line of Syrian Battle Combatants Maneuvering in Aleppo, the Nation's Commercial Heart

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Largest City Is Front Line of Syrian Battle Combatants Maneuvering in Aleppo, the Nation's Commercial Heart

Article excerpt

ALEPPO, Syria -- In a school transformed into a base, a rebel commander sat at a small desk, drinking tea as updates came over a walkie-talkie. His fighters were on the front lines, watching government troops who had massed around the city. An AK-47 sat on the desk, because the fighting, for the moment, had stopped.

The Syrian Army has descended on Aleppo, with troops, tanks, helicopters and warplanes, hoping to rout hundreds and perhaps thousands of armed opposition fighters who have grabbed a tenuous foothold in this city.

The battle in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, could signify a decisive moment in the 17-month-old conflict, proving the government's resilience or exposing its fragility. The Syrian government, which successfully stopped most rebel attacks on Damascus last week, has promised to make quick work of its foes in Aleppo.

On Sunday, the rebel commander, Abu Mohammed, who is from Aleppo, boasted of other plans. "We are preparing ourselves for a long, hard guerrilla war," he said, as he ordered his men to organize night patrols in Salaheddiin, the district at the center of the fighting.

For most of the uprising, Aleppo, the nation's vital commercial heart, was comparatively quiet, as its merchant class threw in its lot with the government or remained leery of taking sides. The uprising against President Bashar Assad flared occasionally, in student protests the regime quickly stamped out.

Mr. Assad's opponents targeted their enemies in the city and ambushed army soldiers on its outskirts. But full-fledged combat was largely centered elsewhere.

Ten days ago, Aleppo was thrust forcefully into the war, as rebels -- including defected soldiers organized under the Free Syrian Army banner -- charged into the city from the surrounding countryside, joining local fighters. They embedded in neighborhoods and quickly clashed with government soldiers in Salaheddiin and other districts. …

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