The rebel Free Syrian Army yesterday said it now controls most of the war-torn country, a day after announcing that it has moved its command center from Turkey to “liberated areas” inside Syria.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi held talks about Syria on Saturday, agreeing the crisis was “a steadily increasing threat to regional peace and stability,” according to a statement.
Brahimi, who was appointed earlier this month, is due to brief the UN Security Council today about his first round of talks with both the regime, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and opposition groups.
The international community’s efforts to halt more than 18 months of bloodshed in Syria have so far failed to make any headway, and fighting persisted on the ground overnight and yesterday morning.
Regime forces shelled many rebel-held areas, including in and around Damascus, second city Aleppo in the north, neighboring Idlib, the central cities of Hama and Homs, and Daraa in the south, a watchdog group said.
In Aleppo, the key battleground for the past two months, a correspondent reported clashes as rebels exchanged fire in Bustan al-Qasr and Bustan al-Zahraa neighborhoods.
Government forces shelled the Aleppo districts of Fardus, Sakhur and Suleiman al-Halabi, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based-based watchdog.
It added that two rebel fighters were killed in Daraa Province where the uprising against the Assad regime broke out in March last year.
The Observatory said that 150 people were killed across Syria on Saturday — 88 civilians, 30 rebels and 32 soldiers. Another 25 bodies were found in Damascus.
As the fighting continued unabated, a rebel commander said the regime’s aerial superiority was the only thing preventing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) from taking control of the capital.
“We control most of the country. In most regions, the soldiers are prisoners of their barracks. They go out very little and we can move freely everywhere, except Damascus,” Colonel Ahmed Abdel Wahab said.
“With or without outside help, the fall of the regime is a question of months, not years,” said Abdel Wahab, who claims that he commands a brigade of 850 men in the FSA.
“If we had anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, we could quickly gain the advantage,” he said, speaking in the village of Atma near the Syrian border with Turkey. “But if foreign countries don’t give us these, we will still win. It will take longer, that’s all.”
Wahab, a colonel in the regular army only nine months ago, said his defection was driven by “the magnitude of the crimes of the regime, which is killing its own people.”
He said he commands four katibas (battalions) which make up the “Nasser Salaheddine” brigade in Aleppo and the region.
Wahab said he attends daily meetings with FSA leaders in the northern metropolis, where orders are given to him and other battalion commanders.
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