ALEPPO - Troops clashed with rebels near the centre of Aleppo on Saturday as snipers sowed panic in Syria’s second city, residents told AFP as monitors reported at least 85 people killed nationwide.
“The clashes broke out two days ago,” said Salah who fled his home on Suleiman al-Halabi with his wife and three children on Friday for a safer location two streets away in neighbouring Midan district.
“When the clashes began, we would go down to the basement with four other families, but for the past two days the fighting has been almost non-stop so we decided to move to a safer area,” he said. According to Salah “almost 80 percent of the people in Suleiman al-Halabi left their homes after rebels entered the area.” In the adjacent neighbourhood of Midan, which is held by the regular army, residents panicked as they heard gunfire and some shouted: “Watch out there are snipers.” Streets in the neighbourhoods were empty and shops were locked up while several buildings were gutted and apartments destroyed.
“The battle is now between snipers,” Sheikh Walid, the head of a rebel brigade in the southern Amiriya district, told an AFP correspondent who reported that only few hundred meters separate the rival snipers.
The correspondent witnessed a sniper as he took cover behind a pile of sandbags to open fire while behind him other fighters armed with rocket launchers and machine guns prepared to swing into action.
Elsewhere in Aleppo, five members of the same family, including children, were killed in the eastern Maysar district, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Residents also told AFP that rebel reinforcements were pouring into the eastern district of Sakhur and Shaar.
Saturday’s death toll also included 11 soldiers who were killed in fighting and rebel attacks in Aleppo province, near the border with Turkey, said the Britain-based Observatory which relies of a network of activists on the ground.
The soldiers, and six rebels, were killed in the Orm and Kaf Jum areas, the monitoring group said, adding that a woman also died in shelling as rebels attacked checkpoints in Abezmo.
“The state has no presence except for military and administrative posts” in the western region of the Aleppo province in northern Syria, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone.
In Damascus province, three women were among seven people who died when a shell hit a civilian bus and the bodies of six people killed by gunfire were found in the central Qadam neighbourhood of the capital, said the Observatory. According to the Local Coordination Committees, the six people were from one family and died at the hands of regime forces.
In the northwest province of Idlib, a Syrian-Arab Red Crescent worker was shot dead along with another man by regime forces, the Observatory said.
Violence nationwide left at least 85 people — 34 civilians, 28 soldiers and 23 rebels — killed on Saturday, according to the watchdog. Rebels have moved their command base from Turkey to “liberated areas” inside Syria, they announced on Saturday as regime troops and rebels battled for control of a corridor near the border.
“The Free Syrian Army command has moved into liberated areas of Syria following arrangements made with battalions and brigades to secure these zones,” FSA chief Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad said in a video posted on the Internet. The next step would be to “liberate” the capital Damascus, he added.
Nearly 80 percent of towns and villages on the Turkish border are outside government control, and President Bashar al-Assad’s portraits have been removed from many public buildings, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The transfer will allow the command centre to be closer to the fighters,” General Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the military council grouping rebel chiefs, told AFP, but declining to say where the new command would be located.
In Beirut, the Lebanese military said “a large number” of Syrian rebels attacked one of its posts near the border with the war-torn country on Friday night, without causing casualties. “Army reinforcements were dispatched to the area and began to pursue the gunmen, who fled after the attack towards the mountains and several border towns and villages” inside Lebanon, it said in a statement.