Syrian rebels abandon Aleppo district
Updated 3:36pm: Syrian rebels on Thursday withdrew from the Salaheddine district of Aleppo, a rebel commander said, as government forces advanced into the city.
“We have staged a tactical withdrawal from Salaheddine,” Hossam Abu Mohammed told AFP by telephone. “The district is completely empty of rebel fighters. Regime forces are now advancing into Salaheddin.”
The rebels are still in streets near the key neighborhood, said Abu Mohammed, who commands the Dara al-Shahbaa Brigade.
“We are in the Saif al-Dawla and Mashhad districts” east of Salaheddine, he said.
“The fighters are withdrawing to (nearby) Sukkari district, where they are preparing a counter attack against the army.”
The commander cited heavy shelling and the regular army’s use of thermobaric bombs which produce a wall of fire to incinerate targets in enclosed spaces.
Another FSA commander Wassel Ayub confirmed the withdrawal.
“We had full control of the district last night, but then regime forces bombarded in an unprecedented way,” Ayub said. “The situation is terrible, and we have decided to stage a tactical withdrawal.”
In Damascus, a security source told AFP regime forces were advancing in the district.
“The army is advancing quickly in Salaheddine towards Seif al-Dawla,” the source said. “But the next big battle, which will be very fierce, will be in the (southeastern) Sukkari district.”
“For the battle in Salaheddine, the army used only 10 percent of the reinforcements sent” to Aleppo, the source said.
Regime forces deployed 20,000 troops as reinforcements to Aleppo in recent days.
Rebels and regime forces have engaged in fierce fighting over Salaheddine for more than two weeks.
Shooting was also heard in several suburbs of the northern city, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees.
Backed by tanks and air power, the Syrian army on Tuesday launched a major ground offensive against the rebels who had claimed to have control of half of the city.
Syrian state television on Thursday said troops had regained control of a number of areas in the city, including the old souks, Hraytan and Mayer.
It added that a number of “terrorists” had been killed as regime forces attacked a rebel base in the coastal city of Latakia, around 200 km from Aleppo.
Refugees pour into Turkey
The ongoing battle for control of Aleppo has led to a sharp spike in the number of Syrians fleeing to Turkey, with over 2,000 making the journey in the past 48 hours according to Turkish authorities.
There were 50,227 Syrians in Turkey as of Thursday, after 2,219 people crossed the border on August 8-9, the state-run Disaster and Emergency Administration said in a statement.
The refugees are housed at nine camps in four Turkish provinces along the Syrian border.