Skip to main content

Official: Reinforcements head to Syria's largest city

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 25, 2012 -- Updated 0922 GMT (1722 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rebel troops prepare to face government reinforcements, an official says
  • Journalist tells of "comprehensive victory" for Syrian president in Damascus
  • Fighting is raging across the country, including Aleppo
  • Many Iraqis who took refuge in Syria return home

Are you in Syria? Share your stories, videos and photos with the world on CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- Leaders of Syrian rebel forces ordered their fighters to attack hundreds of government troops heading toward the country's largest city, a Free Syrian Army official told CNN Wednesday.

The Syrian regime withdrew about 2,000 fully equipped troops, along with their tanks and artillery, from Idlib and sent them to Aleppo, the official said.

Word of reinforcements in Aleppo came hours after state media reported that regime troops had regained control and mopped up key Damascus neighborhoods where rebels fought President Bashar al-Assad's security forces last week.

ITN journalist Alex Thomson, writing via a blog from Damascus, noted these military strides, saying "it is quite clear that the regime has just had, in Damascus, the biggest boost to its morale in 16 months of violent civil war."

"The crackling of automatic fire, the crumbling explosion of incoming shellfire, the helicopter gunships quartering the city and firing machine gun bursts -- all those sounds have gone pretty much from Damascus today."

"This is a comprehensive victory of the Assad Regime in its own backyard and capital."

What could Syria do with WMDs?
Syrian crisis zeroed in on Aleppo
What's next for Syria's president?
Attack a major blow to Syrian regime

But unrest persisted across the country, opposition groups said.

At least 133 people died Tuesday in Syria's violence, including 21 killed during shelling and clashes in Aleppo, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Rebel forces were working to gain control of Aleppo neighborhoods, activists said.

"There is random shelling of the eastern portion of the city as the Syrian Army is trying to force out the FSA (Free Syrian Army). They are hitting civilian homes over and over," one activist told CNN via Skype.

CNN's Ivan Watson, who is in northern Syria, said he has noticed the rebels have become better armed in the past few months. Where once they only had shotguns, they now have rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles. The increased firepower has helped the rebels successfully attack armored vehicles and force some Syrian forces to take resupply by helicopter.

The rebels have also been able to establish growing enclaves in northern Syria and from there try to seize a number of key border crossings. Watson said in the village he was in that hundreds of rebels loaded up with ammunition Monday night and headed to fight in Aleppo.

A Syrian town's 'Street of Death'

The fighting, spiking for months with the emergence of armed rebels willing to take on the Syrian security apparatus, took an ominous turn this week after a Syrian official discussed his country's weapons of mass destruction.

Jihad Makdissi, Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters Monday that "any stocks of WMD or any unconventional weapon that the Syrian Arab Republic possesses would never be used against civilians or against the Syrian people during this crisis at any circumstances, no matter how the crisis would evolve.

"All the stocks of these weapons that the Syrian Arab Republic possesses are monitored and guarded by the Syrian Army," Makdissi said. He further said the "weapons are meant to be used only and strictly in the event of external aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic."

Syria says it has weapons of mass destruction in case of foreign attack

U.S. President Barack Obama, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others reacted strongly after the official uttered the threat Monday.

"They will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons," Obama said at a VFW convention.

Russia said Syria has ratified 1925 Geneva protocols "banning the use of asphyxiating, toxic and other gases in military conditions" and expects the country to heed that agreement. That protocol was drawn up and signed "under the auspices of the League of Nations" and "entered into force" in 1928, the United Nations said.

"Russia's policy is based on the understanding that Syrian authorities will continue to strictly follow their international obligations," the Foreign Ministry said. Russia has been a friend and ally of the al-Assad regime.

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos
Massacre in Syria
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
Photos: Massacre in Syria Photos: Massacre in Syria
A member of the Free Syrian Army engages in an attack against the Syrian army in Al-Qusayr on January 27. The small town in western Syria has been under siege since early November. A member of the Free Syrian Army engages in an attack against the Syrian army in Al-Qusayr on January 27. The small town in western Syria has been under siege since early November.
On the front lines with the Free Syrian Army
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Photos: Front lines of Free Syrian Army Photos: Front lines of Free Syrian Army

Ban said Syria is not a party to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That's the body of the Chemical Weapons Convention dedicated to eliminating the weapons.

Al-Assad's regime "probably has the largest and most advanced chemical warfare program in the Arab world," according to Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow and director of the military and security studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

It includes "thousands of tube and rocket artillery rounds filled with mustard-type blister agents, thousands of bombs filled with the nerve agents sarin and possibly VX, and binary-type and cluster CW warheads filled with nerve agents for all its major missile systems.

"Its CW infrastructure is believed to include several production facilities and numerous storage sites, mostly dispersed throughout the western half of the country," Eisenstadt said.

Syria is thought to have a biological warfare research and development program but is not known to have offensive biological warfare agents, Eisenstadt told CNN.

Recently, there had been Western intelligence that the stockpiles were being moved.

The rebel Free Syrian Army also said the Syrian regime moved around stockpiles of the weapons about 15 days ago, citing intelligence from cells inside the regime.

One portion of the stockpile was transferred to the Syrian coast, and another was transferred to airports along the southern border, FSA Col. Mustapha Sheikh told CNN. Sheikh said he suspects two reasons for the move:

"First, they are afraid of the Free Syrian Army's reach. And secondly, moving the weapons to the border is a threat to the international community," he said.

Arab League to offer 'safe exit' if Assad resigns

The Obama administration has stepped up its discussions with Israel, Jordan and Turkey about Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.

Israeli President Shimon Peres has said his country is preparing contingency plans to attack Syria's chemical weapons arsenal if Israel is directly threatened. In September 2007, Israeli jets bombed a building in Syria that the U.N. nuclear agency eventually concluded was "very likely a nuclear reactor."

Syria worked to clarify Makdissi's comments Tuesday, with the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency saying "the goal of the statement and the press conference wasn't to declare but rather to respond to a methodical media campaign targeting Syria to prepare world public opinion for the possibility of military intervention under the false premise of weapons of mass destruction (similar to what happened with Iraq) or the possibility of using such weapons against terrorist groups or civilians."

Makdissi sent out a Twitter message Tuesday, explaining that the Foreign Ministry's statement was only "a response to false allegations on WMD & explanation of guidelines of defensive policy."

Meanwhile, people continue to flee their homes as the violence increases. The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that more than 10,000 Iraqi refugees have returned to Iraq in the past week. The refugees had fled to escape warfare there, and the Iraqi government is trying to help them as they come home.

"Many of the returnees have expressed their fear regarding the ongoing risks to their safety in Iraq, but said that they felt they had little choice, given the security threats in Syria," the U.N. agency said.

The Syrian crisis started in March 2011, when a fierce government crackdown against protesters morphed into a nationwide uprising against the regime.

The LCC says more than 16,000 people have been killed in the conflict. The Syrian government has long maintained that "armed terrorist groups" are fueling violence in the country.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports of violence in Syria because the government restricts access by foreign journalists.

Ban Ki-moon: Syrian regime 'failed to protect civilians'

Amid violence, Syrians race to borders

CNN's Ivan Watson, Joe Sterling, Hamdi Alkhshali, Salma Abdelaziz, Holly Yan, Fionnuala Sweeney, Mohammed Jamjoom and Mohammed Tawfeeq and journalist Ammar Cheikh Omar contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Aqsa Mahmood,19, would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. Then this Glasgow girl became an ISIS bride.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0823 GMT (1623 HKT)
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0422 GMT (1222 HKT)
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0933 GMT (1733 HKT)
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 2216 GMT (0616 HKT)
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT