x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Syria's British envoy and general quit Assad regime

As London charge d'affaires condemns 'violent and oppressive' actions, senior security chief in Latakia also changes sides.

Syrian rebel fighters celebrate after capturing a checkpoint in the village of Anadan, about five kilometres northwest of Aleppo after a 10-hour battle. Nevertheless, they are overwhelmingly outgunned by the Syrian military with its tanks and helicopters.
Syrian rebel fighters celebrate after capturing a checkpoint in the village of Anadan, about five kilometres northwest of Aleppo after a 10-hour battle. Nevertheless, they are overwhelmingly outgunned by the Syrian military with its tanks and helicopters.

BEIRUT // Syria's top envoy in Britain turned his back on the Assad regime yesterday, the fourth senior diplomat to defect to the rebel side.

Khaled Al Ayoubi, charge d'affaires at the Syrian embassy in London, told the British foreign office he had resigned in protest at the "violent and oppressive" actions of his government.

His defection follows that of the Syrian ambassador to the UAE and his wife, charge d'affaires in Cyprus, and the ambassador to Iraq.

Senior military figures are also changing sides. Turkey said yesterday that the deputy head of security for Latakia, a regime stronghold, had defected. The brigadier general was one of 12 Syrian officers who crossed into Turkey late on Sunday, bringing to 28 the number of generals who have done so since the start of the 17-month uprising.

Meanwhile rebel-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo came under renewed attacks yesterday as the regime fought to regain control. The government said it had "purged" the rebel-held Salahedinne area in the city's south, but opposition activists said they were still fighting.

Regime forces had "not progressed one metre" and rebels still controlled "between 35 and 40 per cent of Aleppo", said Col Abdel Jabbar Al Oqaidi, head of the Free Syrian Army council for the city.

After more than a week of fighting in Syria's business hub, regime forces continued to use mortars, tank fire and helicopters against rebel positions.

Helicopter gunships attacked the Sakhour neighbourhood in the city's north, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said.

Aleppo residents who have fled the violence have spoken of a city under bombardment, with dwindling supplies of food, petrol and other basic necessities.

Buildings in some areas have been ripped apart by mortars and artillery shells, and debris and piles of rubbish spill on to the streets.

Some vegetable markets remain open, but few people are buying. Crowds wait hours to purchase limited amounts of bread.

Hospitals and makeshift clinics in rebel-held areas in the east of the city were filling up with casualties. "Some days we get around 30, 40 people, not including the bodies," a young medic in one clinic said.

"A few days ago, we got 30 injured and maybe 20 corpses, but half of those bodies were ripped to pieces. We can't figure out who they are."

The head of the United Nations observer mission to Syria, Lt Gen Babacar Gaye, said he was "deeply concerned about the ongoing violence from both sides in Aleppo.

"My observers there have reported an upsurge in the violence, with helicopters, tanks and artillery being used. It is imperative that both sides respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians."

The UN believes 200,000 Syrians have already escaped the city of about three million. Valerie Amos, the UN's humanitarian-affairs chief, has warned of worsening conditions for those who remain in the city.

"I am extremely concerned by the impact of shelling and use of tanks and other heavy weapons on people in Aleppo," she said.

"Many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer areas. They urgently need food, mattresses and blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water."

Leon Panetta, the US secretary of defence, said the continued use of heavy weapons in urban areas was bringing the end of the regime ever closer.

"If they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people … I think it ultimately will be a nail in Assad's coffin," he said. "His regime is coming to an end."

Nevertheless, rebel forces relying on small arms and guerrilla tactics remain overwhelmingly outgunned by the Syrian military with its tanks and helicopters.

At least 85 people died in the conflict yesterday, according to the LCC. They included nine in Aleppo and 12 in the Damascus area. Fighting also took place in Deraa, where the LCC reported heavy shelling, as well as Homs.

France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said his country would call for an urgent UN Security Council meeting to try to stop the bloodshed.

"We're going to ask for a meeting of the Security Council, probably at ministerial level, before the end of this week," he said.

Stronger united action by the council has remained elusive, with China and Russia vetoing three resolutions calling for more pressure on the Assad regime.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters