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Aleppo pounded as UN issues warning

05 August, 2012

ALEPPO: Rebel-held quarters of Syria's Aleppo came under heavy bombardment by regime forces on Saturday, as a senior security official said the real battle for control of the strategic northern city was yet to come.

A hold-out rebel district of Damascus was also pounded, a day after the United Nations deplored the failure of diplomacy to end a conflict that has reportedly claimed more than 21,000 lives in nearly 17 months.

Abdel Jabar Oqaida, commander of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, said the district of Salaheddin had "come under the heaviest bombardment since the battle began" on July 20 but the loyalists had "not managed to advance". In what is also a war of words, a senior government security figure said, "The battle for Aleppo has not yet begun, and what is happening now is just the appetiser. The main course will come later."

More than a week ago, a pro-government newspaper was already proclaiming what was to be the "mother of all battles" as heavy government reinforcements were being brought in.

And earlier this week, a security official said troops were "testing the terrorists' defence systems before annihilating them by carrying out a surgical operation".

The security official, on Saturday, said more reinforcements had arrived and that at least 20,000 troops were already on the ground. "The other side are also sending reinforcements," the official added, referring to the rebels, who claim to have seized half the city since they poured in two weeks ago.

Because of restrictions on the free movement of journalists in Syria, none of the claims can be verified. Echoing UN chief Ban Ki-moon's remarks on Thursday that violence was intensifying, a watchdog said July had been the deadliest month since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime erupted in March 2011.

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