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U.N. confirms Syrian forces are using warplanes in Aleppo

August 1, 2012 |  7:51 am

BEIRUT — The Syrian military has deployed fighter jets to attack rebel positions in the northern battleground city of Aleppo, the United Nations confirmed Wednesday.

U.N. monitors observed fighter jets firing over the southeast neighborhoods of Aleppo, a spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Syria said via email.

The U.N. statement confirms various accounts from media outlets and opposition activists that Syrian warplanes have been targeting rebels who are trying to wrest control of the northern city, Syria’s most populous. The aircraft fired rockets and heavy machine guns, the U.N. said.

Photos: Syrian conflict

The jets, presumably Russian-made MiG fighters, add to an  extensive government arsenal arrayed against insurgents fighting to oust President Bashar Assad. Syria is believed to have one of the largest air forces in the region.

The Syrian military has already used helicopter gunships against rebels in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. Scores of Russian-made tanks are reported to be massed outside of Aleppo, waiting to join the government battle to dislodge rebels ensconced in several city neighborhoods.

Rebel commanders have long bemoaned their lack of anti-tank and anti aircraft guns. The main opposition weapons are Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs.

Rebels have seized government tanks and artillery in battle, but it is not clear how much the opposition has been able to utilize the captured heavy weaponry.

On Tuesday, NBC News reported that rebels in Syria had acquired a cache of surface-to-air missiles, delivered from neighboring Turkey. The source of the weapons was not disclosed. It was also not clear what kind of missiles were involved.

Two Persian Gulf nations, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have publicly backed arming the rebels and have funneled money to the Syrian opposition.

The fight for Aleppo is shaping up as a potentially decisive battle in the almost 17-month uprising. Rebels have occupied some neighborhoods, but government forces have been pounding opposition positions with shells and aircraft. Intense street fighting has been reported. The opposition said it seized three police stations Tuesday after heavy fighting.

On Wednesday, Assad delivered a pep talk to his troops in their fight against “criminal terrorist gangs,” as the government often refers to rebels.

“You represent the aspiration of our people in defending their dignity and honor and restoring stability of the homeland,” Assad said in a written statement marking the Syrian army’s 67th anniversary, the state-run media reported.

The president urged the armed forces to maintain “readiness and continued preparations to remain the armor and fortress of the homeland.”

The military, struggling to put down a rebellion across broad swaths of the nation, has suffered high casualties and significant numbers of defections in the difficult fight against rebels seeking to oust Assad. But most senior commanders remain in place and the military remains a formidable foe for comparatively lightly armed and ill-trained opposition fighters.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Syrian rebel fighters on Wednesday stand on top of a government tank captured two days earlier at a checkpoint in the village of Anadan, about three miles northwest of Aleppo. Credit: Ahmad Gharabli / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.