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WAR REPORT
Assad lashes out as Israel admits Syria raid
by Staff Writers
Munich, Germany (AFP) Feb 3, 2013


Syria fighter jets raid Aleppo rebel area: NGO
Aleppo, Syria (AFP) Feb 2, 2013 - Syrian warplanes raided a strategic district of the embattled northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, a day after insurgents seized the neighbourhood, a monitoring group said.

"Warplanes carried out several air strikes on Sheikh Said" in southern Aleppo, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that fierce clashes pitted insurgents against troops in the heart of Syria's second city.

Rebels seized Sheikh Said on Friday, a resident and activists told AFP.

"Rebel fighters seized total control of Sheikh Said in southern Aleppo, after troops exhausted by 48 hours of fighting withdrew from the district," one resident of the area said on condition of anonymity.

"Most neighbourhood residents fled the area after rebels took control."

The takeover was a strategic victory for the rebels, as it secured a key route linking Syria's second city to its international airport.

According to Aleppo-based activist Abu Hisham, the battle for Aleppo's airport has become a key rebel objective.

Violence exploded in the city last July 20, when the army launched an all-out campaign against a rebel onslaught on the country's former commercial hub. It has since been divided into rebel- and army-held districts.

In Damascus, a blast in the central Shaghur district on Saturday injured one man, while rebels and troops clashed in Qadam in the east of the capital, said the Observatory, which is kept informed by a network of activists and media.

South of Damascus, the army pounded the rebel enclave of Moadamiyet al-Sham, the watchdog added, in a renewed effort to snuff out the insurgency on the capital's doorstep.

Rebels and troops also fought in Irbin and Daraya near Damascus, the Observatory said, a day after 85 people were killed in violence across the country -- 32 soldiers, 31 rebels and 22 civilians.

A total of more than 60,000 people have died in Syria's 22-month conflict, according to UN figures.

Turkey PM condemns Israel over Syria strike
Istanbul (AFP) Feb 03, 2013 - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel on Sunday of waging "state terrorism" as he condemned the air strike on Syria as an unacceptable violation of international law.

"Those who have been treating Israel like a spoilt child should expect anything from them, at any time," said Erdogan, a harsh critic of the Jewish state.

"As I say time and again, Israel has a mentality of waging state terrorism. Right now, there is no telling what it might do and where it might do it," he told reporters.

Erdogan was speaking after Israel's outgoing Defence Minister Ehud Barak implicitly confirmed that it had staged Wednesday's bombing raid which Damascus said targeted a military complex near the capital.

"We cannot regard a violation of air space as acceptable. What Israel does is completely against international law... it is beyond condemnation," Erdogan said.

"I am worried that in a situation like this, any scenario can play out in the future."

He said Israel was using claims about weapons being moved into Lebanon to justify its action as "an excuse."

Wednesday's air strike targeted surface-to-air missiles and an adjacent military complex believed to house chemical agents, according to a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Damascus has threatened to retaliate, further fuelling fears of a regional spillover of the country's 22-month conflict which the UN says has already left more than 60,000 people dead.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has become a fierce critic of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising erupted in March 2011.

Israel on Sunday implicitly confirmed it staged an air strike on Syria last week as President Bashar al-Assad accused the Jewish state of trying to further destabilise his war-torn country.

The foreign minister of Damascus ally Iran, meanwhile, said he welcomed Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib's stated readiness to hold talks with representatives of Assad's regime.

Four days after an air raid which Damascus said targeted a military complex near the capital, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak spoke to reporters in Munich but refrained from explicitly confirming that Israel staged the strike.

Barak told the Munich Security Conference that it was "another proof that when we say something we mean it."

"We say that we don't think that it should be allowable to bring advanced weapon systems into Lebanon, the Hezbollah from Syria, when Assad falls," Barak said.

Wednesday's air strike targeted surface-to-air missiles and an adjacent military complex believed to house chemical agents, according to a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Damascus has threatened to retaliate, further fuelling fears of a regional spillover of the country's 22-month conflict which the UN says has already left more than 60,000 people dead.

A fierce critic of both Assad and Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of waging "state terrorism" as he condemned the air strike on Syria as an unacceptable violation of international law.

"We cannot regard a violation of air space as acceptable. What Israel does is completely against international law... it is beyond condemnation," Erdogan told reporters.

In the wake of the strike, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told AFP that Washington was increasingly concerned that Syria's "chaos" could allow Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement to obtain sophisticated weapons from Damascus.

Israeli armed forces chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz on Sunday started a visit to Washington with the Syrian conflict and Iran's controversial nuclear programme on his agenda.

And US Vice President Joe Biden flew in to Paris for talks on Monday with President Francois Hollande also covering Syria.

In Damascus, Assad accused Israel of seeking to "destabilise" Syria, state news agency SANA reported.

The raid "unmasked the true role Israel is playing, in collaboration with foreign enemy forces and their agents on Syrian soil," he told Saeed Jalili, who heads Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Amid the insecurity, Israeli security sources said the Jewish state has plans for a buffer zone inside the Syrian border to prevent radical groups from approaching its territory.

"There's a plan in the military's northern command for the 'day after' according to which, when Bashar Assad is no longer president of Syria, there's a fear that terror elements will try to approach the fence," one source told AFP.

-- Syria allies welcome National Coalition overture --

----------------------------------------------------

On the political front, Key Damascus and Hezbollah backer Tehran also said on Sunday that it welcomed opposition chief Khatib's overture for talks with regime representatives.

"It's a good step forward," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said at the Munich Security Conference, where he said he had held a "very good meeting" with Khatib.

Iran has joined UN Security Council members Russia and China in consistently backing Assad's regime throughout the almost two year-long conflict which has also forced more than 700,000 people to flee Syria.

After Khatib met Iranian and Russian representatives in Munich, opposition spokesman Walid al-Bunni told AFP by telephone that Moscow must now pressure Assad to end the spiralling conflict.

"The ball is now in Russia's court," the Syrian National Coalition's Bunni said, although he conceded that there has been "no breakthrough in Russia's stance."

On the ground, at least 16 people, among them 10 children and a rebel commander, were killed in a missile attack by the army on Sunday on a rebel-held area of the northern city of Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Video distributed by activists showed a man describing the carnage. "I saw a 13-year-old's body sprawled on the ground, I saw mutilated body parts everywhere," he told the amateur cameraman.

The Britain-based watchdog, which relies on a network of activists and medics for its information, said at least 125 people were killed in violence across Syria on Sunday, among them 58 rebel fighters.

burs/ser/hc

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