Rebels say they are fighting back against government offensives in the north. An opposition operations room in northern Aleppo said fighters had destroyed an army tank and killed 20 troops at Marat al-Arteek, a town where opposition sources say rebels are holding back an armoured column sent to reinforce loyalists from isolated Shi’ite villages. “Assad’s forces and Hezbollah are trying to control northern rural Aleppo but they are being repelled and dealt heavy losses,” Colonel Abdul-Jabbar al-Okeidi, a Free Syrian Army commander in Aleppo, told al-Arabiya Television. He said Hezbollah had sent up to 2,000 fighters to Aleppo and the surrounding areas, but expressed confidence the opposition would prevail.
“Aleppo and Qusair are different. In Qusair we were surrounded by villages that had been occupied by Hezbollah and by loyalist areas. We did not even have a place to take our wounded. In Aleppo, we have a strategic depth and logistical support and we are better organized,” he said. “Aleppo will turn into the grave of these Hezbollah devils.” Battles were also fought inside Aleppo itself, where thousands of loyalist troops and militiamen reinforced by Hezbollah have been massing and attacking opposition-held parts of the city, driving rebel fighters back.
Opposition activists said the army was also airlifting troops behind rebel lines to Ifrin, in a Kurdish area, which would give access for a bigger sweep inside the city. “For a week, the rebel forces have been generally on the retreat in Aleppo, but the tide has started turning in the last two days,” said Abu Abdallah, an activist in the area. Hezbollah’s support for Assad, a follower of the minority Alawite offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, against mainly Sunni Muslim rebels has increased fears of sectarian violence spreading into neighbouring countries.
In Lebanon, security sources said gunmen had shot dead four Shi’ite Muslim men in an ambush in the Bekaa Valley close to the Syrian frontier. It was not clear who was behind the shooting. Lebanon is still rebuilding from its own sectarian civil war, fought from 1975-1990. Fighting between Sunnis and Shi’ites was also behind most of the violence in Iraq in the decade after the U.S. invasion of 2003.
Further reporting by Reuters