Syrian rebels clash with regime forces in Aleppo
Arab League offers Assad 'safe exit' if he steps down
Fierce clashes raged Monday in parts of Syria's largest city, Aleppo, as government forces in the capital Damascus kicked down doors and searched homes for rebels in mopping up operations after a week of heavy fighting there.
Several videos posted by activists showed rebel fighters in the Aleppo neighbourhood of Sakhour cheering and praying next to a burning government tank and riding around in another captured tank apparently taken in a recent battle. The Britain-based Syria Observatory reported heavy fighting at dawn in the northeastern neighbourhoods of the city, including Sakhour and Hanano, which had been bombarded by government forces.
The Observatory said many people fled these neighbourhoods in the subsequent lulls in the fighting. The Associated Press could not independently verify the battle scenes shown in the videos posted by the activists.
Aleppo, Syria's most populated city with about 3 million residents, has been the focus of rebel assault by a newly formed alliance of opposition forces called the Brigade of Unification. The group said Sunday it was launching an operation to take the city. Much of the fighting in the large city has been confined to neighbourhoods in the northwest.
In Damascus, however, Syrian forces appear to have regained control of most of the capital after a week of fighting against rebel forces. Activist videos showed armed men in fatigues moving from house to house kicking down doors searching for any remaining rebel fighters that were behind the clashes. The men were wearing sneakers, mismatched military uniforms and baseball caps, suggesting they were government-allied militia forces rather than regular army.
State television has been broadcasting streams of images of neighbourhoods "cleansed" of rebels.
Arab League proposes 'safe exit' for Assad
Even as the government appeared to be reasserting control of its capital after the weeklong rebel assault, the Arab League offered Syrian President Bashar Assad and his family a "safe exit" if he steps down.
"This request comes from all the ... Arab states: Step aside," said Qatari Prime Minister Hamid bin Jassim Al Thani at an Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Doha, Qatar that concluded at dawn Monday. He urged Syria to form a temporary transitional government to plan for a possible post-Assad era.
The League also promised $100 million for Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and called on the United Nations to set up safe havens for them inside the country. It urged international organizations to cut ties with Assad's regime.
The Arab League has already suspended Syria's membership and it is doubtful that Assad will pay much attention to their calls. He ignored a similar request to step down in exchange for asylum by Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki last February.
In his first public statements since a devastating rebel bombing wiped out four of his top security officers last week, Assad told his new army chief of staff Sunday to "continue the armed forces' pursuit of terrorists." The Syrian regime refers to the rebels as "terrorists" and maintains many are actually foreigners come to fight a jihad, or holy war, in the country. Late Sunday, Syrian television showed the bodies of men killed in the fighting that it claimed were from neighboring countries.
European Union countries, meanwhile, moved to tighten the arms embargo on the Syrian government by requiring member nations to board ships and aircraft carrying suspicious cargo to country. The inspections will only take place on the territory or in the territorial waters of EU states.
The EU banned weapons exports to Syria in May, 2011. But until now, the 28 member nations had the right to decide whether or not to inspect cargos believed to be in breach of the embargo.
Syria's military arsenal is mainly of Soviet and Russian origin, which makes it unlikely that the EU arms embargo will have a significant effect on the situation on the ground.