Syria says it recaptures Aleppo district after battle

Sun Jul 29, 2012 6:45pm EDT
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By Erika Solomon

ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) - Syrian troops said they had recaptured a district of Syria's largest city Aleppo, after heavy fighting against rebels who remain in control of swathes of the commercial hub despite being pushed out of the capital Damascus.

The past two weeks have seen forces of President Bashar al-Assad struggle as never before to maintain their grip on the country after a major rebel advance into the two main cities and a July 18 explosion that killed four top security officials.

Government forces have succeeded in imposing their grip on Damascus but rebel fighters gained control of parts of Aleppo, a city of 2.5 million people, where Reuters journalists have toured neighborhoods dotted with Free Syrian Army checkpoints flying black and white Islamist banners.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said attacks on Aleppo were putting the nail in the coffin of Assad's government, showing he lacks the legitimacy to rule.

"If they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people in Aleppo, I think it ultimately will be a nail in Assad's own coffin," Panetta said, speaking to reporters at the start of a weeklong trip to the Middle East and North Africa.

"What Assad has been doing to his own people and what he continues to do to his own people makes clear that his regime is coming to an end. It's lost all legitimacy," he said, adding, "It's no longer a question of whether he's coming to an end, it's when.

Fighting for the past several days has focused on the Salaheddine district in the southwest of Aleppo, where government troops have been backed by helicopter gunships.

Rebel fighters, patrolling opposition districts in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black "independence" flags, said they were holding off Assad's forces in Salaheddine. However, the government said it had pushed them out.   Continued...

A member of the Free Syrian Army walks past a destroyed building in Azzaz, Aleppo province July 17, 2012. Picture taken July 17, 2012. REUTERS/Abdo