The Syrian army pounded rebel positions in second city Aleppo yesterday ahead of a threatened ground assault after boasting its capture of the last rebel-held district of the capital.
Iran appealed for help from governments with ties to the Syrian opposition in securing the release of 48 of its nationals seized from a bus in Damascus as an Arabic news channel aired footage it said was of the Iranians in the hands of rebel captors, who charged that their hostages were Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
At least two rebel fighters were killed in early morning clashes in Aleppo, the scene of heavy fighting since July 20, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Troops shelled rebel-held Salaheddin District in the southwest and clashes erupted in the Sukkari, Hamdaniyeh and Ansari neighborhoods, the Britain-based watchdog said.
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said that the army’s bombardment of the rebels was hitting key public institutions in the commercial capital, some of historical significance.
“After failing to subdue [rebel forces] in Aleppo ... the Syrian regime’s gangs have started to target government institutions and buildings,” the exiled opposition group said in a statement.
“Some of them have historical and archaeological value,” the statement added.
Aleppo preserves a raft of historical sites, including its renowned 13th-century citadel. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization named Aleppo’s Ancient City a World Heritage Site in 1986, citing its “outstanding universal value.”
The SNC accused the army of shelling Aleppo’s TV building.
“The criminal regime does not hesitate to shell these institutions,” the group said, adding: “The rebels were forced to move away from the television building in order to protect the Syrian people’s property and heritage.”
Rebels tried to storm the state television building on Saturday before being driven back by shelling, the Observatory said.
State media said the army defended the site from “mercenary terrorist groups.”
A senior government security figure warned that “the battle for Aleppo has not yet begun, and what is happening now is just the appetizer ... The main course will come later.”
The official said more reinforcements had arrived and that at least 20,000 troops were now on the ground.
“The other side are also sending reinforcements,” the official added of the rebels, who claim to have seized half the city.