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Battle For Syria's Aleppo Continues

Civilians flee Aleppo after shelling by Syrian government forces.
Syrian government forces and rebels are locked in combat in Syria's largest city, with both sides claiming successes.

Government forces backed by helicopter gunships and warplanes have been battling to dislodge rebels who have occupied nearly half of Aleppo since last week.

The Syrian government said late on July 29 it had "purged" Aleppo's Salahhedine district of what the Syrian regime refers to as "terrorists."

Opposition activists have disputed the claim, saying opposition forces remain in control in the district and have inflicted casualties on government troops.

A journalist for AFP, who is near Aleppo, said rebel forces had captured a strategic checkpoint just outside the city after a 10-hour battle. The checkpoint is on a key road between Aleppo and the Turkish border.

The journalist also reported that rebels had captured seven tanks and armored vehicles and destroyed an eighth vehicle in battles early on July 30.

Some 200,000 residents of Aleppo have already fled the fighting, according to the United Nations.

The UN is warning of a looming humanitarian disaster in Aleppo and has called on both sides in the conflict to respect the rights of civilians in the city.

'A Nail In Assad's Coffin'

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta late on July 29 came out with new criticism of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, accusing Assad's forces of using "indiscriminate violence" against civilians in Aleppo.

"It's pretty clear that Aleppo is, I think, another tragic example of the kind of indiscriminate violence that the Assad regime has committed against its own people," Panetta said.

"And in many ways, I think 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 coffin -- that he's just assuring that the Assad regime will come to an end by virtue of the kind of violence that they're committing against their own people."

In another development, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on July 30 that France would request an urgent UN Security Council ministerial meeting on the bloodshed in Syria when it takes over the Security Council presidency in August.

Aleppo, Syria's most-populous city, had a population of more than 2 million before the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011.

The past two weeks have seen Assad's forces struggle as never before to maintain control of the country after major rebel advances into Damascus and Aleppo and a July 18 explosion that killed four top security officials.

Government forces have since retaken the neighborhoods of Damascus from rebel fighters.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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