The Syrian military and the rebels both moved reinforcements into the latest urban battlefield
BEIRUT, LEBANON - The tense Syrian city of Aleppo braced for a gathering storm Wednesday as both the government and the insurgents sped reinforcements to the city to battle over half a dozen neighborhoods where the rebel fighters attempted to assert control.
Sporadic skirmishes erupted throughout the day, with the rebels claiming to have attacked and burned down several police stations in those quarters. Government helicopters circled, residents said, peppering the embattled neighborhoods with machine-gun fire and an occasional rocket while ground troops lobbed an occasional mortar shell.
There were no serious engagements reported. But all signs indicated one was looming in the city, Syria's commercial capital. After withdrawing all visible security forces, even traffic police, for a day, Syrian army troops brought in on trucks and buses suddenly deployed around the historic 13th-century citadel. Thousands more were en route, according to rebel fighters and activists.
"People know there is going to be chaos, fighting, shelling, so people are frightened," said one activist reached via Skype. "They have stocked up on canned goods and are not venturing out."
There was no public transportation, bakeries were closed and hospitals were issuing appeals for blood, he said.
"We fear the government's retaliation -- may God help us," said Ahmad, a resident of the southeastern Salaheddiin neighborhood, one of the first areas overrun with insurgents over the weekend.
Residents streamed out of the neighborhoods where the rebel soldiers claimed control, figuring they would be pounded by government forces. Many were fleeing for a second time, having come to Aleppo from central cities such as Homs and Hama, where the government began its crackdown months ago.
There were two more defections by Syrian diplomats -- the envoy to Cyprus and her husband, the former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, according to the opposition Syrian National Council.
The announcement followed the televised appearance late Tuesday of Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, who confirmed his defection and said Syrians must work together to build a new country. It was his first public appearance since he left Syria earlier this month. French officials later confirmed that he was in France.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.