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Syria's Assad Urges Forces To Fight, As Aleppo Battle Rages

  • RFE/RL

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has praised his forces for their efforts against what he called "criminal terrorist gangs" and said the battle with rebels would determine "the fate of our people."

The military conflict is escalating in the country and heavy fighting continues in Aleppo, the country's largest city.

Clashes have also started on the outskirts of Bab Tuma and Bab Sharqi in the Old City of Damascus, after rebels attacked a military outpost.

Activists say at least 90 people were killed on August 1 across Syria, including 30 in attacks by government forces on the town of Artouz near Damascus.

Government warplanes bombed rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo overnight as forces loyal to Assad attempted to reclaim Syria's largest city.

Reports on August 1 said smoke was rising from areas around Aleppo as rebel fighters rushed to counter the government offensive.

U.S. NBC News television reports the rebel Syrian Free Army has acquired surface-to-air missiles to use against government helicopter gunships. The report says about two dozen portable air-defense systems were delivered through neighboring Turkey.

Fighting continues to rage around Syria but the government has focused in recent days on Aleppo after clearing rebel forces from many of their positions in and around Damascus last week.

Meanwhile the BBC reports that human rights activists have condemned the public shooting in Syria of four apparent Assad loyalists by rebels in Aleppo.

Also, France called for a UN Security Council meeting at ministerial levels to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Ukrainians, Poles Evacuated

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in the fighting that started in March 2011.

Meanwhile, officials in Ukraine and Poland said some 140 Ukrainians and 15 Poles were being evacuated by a Ukrainian military plane from the heavy fighting in Aleppo.

According to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, the plane would fly arrive in Kyiv on August 1.

Officials said most of the evacuees were Ukrainian and Polish women who were married to Syrians, and their children.

Ukraine started evacuating its citizens from Syria on July 26.

In other news, officials said the Turkish Army staged tank exercises near the Syrian border.

The state-run Anatolia news agency said some 25 tanks took part in the exercises in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province, just 2 kilometers from the Syrian border.

The Syrian city of Qamishli is immediately across the border from Nusaybin.

Ankara is concerned about reports that a Kurdish group linked to militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is exerting control in Kurdish areas of northern Syria.

NATO-member Turkey has warned any attack coming from a PKK presence in northern Syria could give it reason to intervene.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, Interfax, and BBC