Syrian troops and rebels sent reinforcements to the intensifying battle in the second city Aleppo, as the US said fresh defections from the regime showed President Bashar al-Assad’s “days are numbered”.
Clashes raged Wednesday in Aleppo’s central Al-Jamaliya neighbourhood, near the local headquarters of the ruling Baath party. In Kalasseh in the south of the city, rebels set a police station ablaze, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Helicopter gunships strafed several neighbourhoods of the commercial capital, causing deaths and injuries, according to the British-based watchdog group.
A rebel spokesman told AFP via Skype that a “large number” of troops have been moved from the northwestern province of Idlib to Aleppo.
A Syrian newspaper journalist confirmed that the rebels were also reinforcing.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said he had told Syrian officials that without a significant reduction in violence, the remaining 150 UN observers would leave on the expiry of the “final” 30-day extension of the mission’s mandate, agreed by the Security Council on July 20.
As the violence increases, high-level defections from Assad’s regime are growing.
The United States on Wednesday confirmed the defections of two more senior Syrian diplomats, the ambassadors to the UAE and Cyprus.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the moves showed that “senior officials around the Assad inner circle are fleeing the government because of the heinous actions taken by Assad against his own people, and the recognition that Assad’s days are numbered”.
Earlier a senior State Department official said; “these defections serve as a reminder that the bottom is starting to fall out of the regime. It is crumbling and losing its grip on power”.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, in Bosnia to visit the site of the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, told the parliament there that “the international community is being tested in Syria”.
The juxtaposition of the massacre and what is happening in Syria was clear.
White House spokesman Carney condemned the use of attack helicopters as “another indication of the depth of depravity” of Assad’s regime.
Meanwhile, aiming to regain the diplomatic initiative, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow was ready to host talks between the two sides.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at the United States for backing the armed opposition, saying a US failure to condemn the July 18 bombing that killed four top Syrian security officials meant it was justifying terror.
And a Russian foreign ministry statement said a new round of EU sanctions agreed this week, which allows for the inspection of vessels and planes suspected of carrying arms to Syria, amounted to an air and sea “blockade”.
It said experts needed to look into the EU legislation to see whether it was in line with international law.
Russia has protected its Soviet-era ally and last week, with China, vetoed a Council resolution on Syria for the third time to the outrage of western nations.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany have said they will seek action against the Syrian government outside the council. All have rejected providing military aid to the opposition, however.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory also reported clashes in the Al-Hajar Al-Aswad district of Damascus, one of the last remaining rebel bastions after 10 days of fighting in the capital.
In Hama province in central Syria, a couple and their two children were killed as they tried to flee shelling. A video distributed by the Observatory showed grisly footage of the bodies.
Nationwide, the monitoring group put the death toll at 108 by Wednesday evening — 57 civilians, 36 soldiers and 15 rebels, while it said 158 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday.
Rights group Amnesty International warned about disturbing reports of “summary executions” by both Syrian troops and rebels, calling them “serious violations of international law”.
Turkey indefinitely closed three border crossings to Turkish nationals trying to get into Syria, citing security concerns.
The UN refugee agency in Geneva said about 300 people fled from Syria into Turkey on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is proposing a UN General Assembly resolution which will highlight a Syrian government threat to use chemical weapons, its UN envoy said.
Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi told reporters the resolution would be submitted in coming days and he hoped for a vote “probably early next week”.