Since the Free Syrian Army is a guerrilla group, whether it can hold the northern metropolis of Aleppo is not absolutely central to its survival. Guerrillas can always fade away to fight another day.
But for the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad, losing Aleppo would be fatal. The regime controls increasingly little of the country, mainly the capital of Damascus and whatever strips of land the army is actually standing on at any one time. Aleppo is the commercial nerve center of the country, and without it the government will gradually collapse.
The revolutionaries hold most of the east of the city whereas the regime still has the west. But within these enclaves, some support the other side or are on the fence.
Rebel forces said Saturday morning that they now control 60% of Aleppo.
In several days of fierce fighting, the regime still has not been able to reassert itself in Aleppo, despite the use of heavy artillery, tanks, helicopter gunships and even fighter jets. Admittedly, the Baath government has not mounted a really big tank assault a la Homs, suggesting it does not have enough tank battalions it trusts to risk sending them away from the capital.
On Saturday morning, the rebels in Aleppo made an attempt to take over the city’s television station (always the first sign of a change in government in a place). Although their attempt was initially repelled by sniper fire, that battle is ongoing. Regime broadcasts appear to have ceased. The regime continues to be on the defensive in Aleppo, which is not a good sign for it.
Heavy fighting is reported in neighborhoods such as Salahuddin. For the mood and the situation in Salahuddin see The Irish Times
Opposition sources say over 4000 persons were killed in the fighting in Syria in July. This monthly total is the highest since the revolt began.
In Damascus, the regime is still apparently battling for control of districts such as Tadamon. A regime mortar attack went astray on Friday and overshot, hitting a Palestinian refugee camp and killing 20. There are 450,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, families ethnically cleansed by Zionist forces from their homes in Palestine, now Israel, in 1948, and stuck in Syria ever since. The Palestinians are only about 2% of the Syrian population, but they do have some armed groups and could be pushed by the regime into joining the rebels (they have been divided on the revolution, having an uncertain position in the country). The regime blamed the mortars on the rebels, but it is the Baath army that has been deploying mortar fire against civilian city quarters.
On Friday, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the Syrian regime for using heavy weapons in civilian areas. Russia and China are increasingly isolated in the world community because of their support for al-Assad, and were angry that they lost that vote so decisively. The UNGA vote shows that opposition to al-Assad’s methods is hardly just “Western,” but is rather characteristic of most countries in the world– including many in Latin America, Africa and Asia.