Rebels Defensive, In Syria And On World Stage

A picture released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network purportedly shows Syrian rebels celebrating after taking over a police station in the Ansari district of Aleppo on Friday. i i

A picture released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network purportedly shows Syrian rebels celebrating after taking over a police station in the Ansari district of Aleppo on Friday. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images
A picture released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network purportedly shows Syrian rebels celebrating after taking over a police station in the Ansari district of Aleppo on Friday.

A picture released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network purportedly shows Syrian rebels celebrating after taking over a police station in the Ansari district of Aleppo on Friday.

AFP/Getty Images

For the second weekend in a row, observers are predicting a major government offensive against rebels in Syria's largest city, Aleppo. Fierce fighting has also been reported in parts of the capital, Damascus. Allegations of atrocities on both sides of the conflict have prompted a crescendo of criticism from the outside world.

Both sides claim to have gained the upper hand in the fighting over Aleppo, the country's commercial hub and the main city in the north. The government said last week that it had killed many rebels in Aleppo and would soon restore peace to the city.

But Mohammed Saeed, a spokesman for the Syrian Revolution General Commission, disagrees. He says that in recent days, Free Syrian Army — or FSA — fighters have taken roughly half of the city's territory and are pushing from the outer suburbs toward the city's center.

In Exile, Assad's Cousin Speaks Out

Ribal Al-Assad, cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad, says it's not just Syria that's arming for war. i i

Ribal Al-Assad, cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad, says it's not just Syria that's arming for war. Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images
Ribal Al-Assad, cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad, says it's not just Syria that's arming for war.

Ribal Al-Assad, cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad, says it's not just Syria that's arming for war.

Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Ribal Al-Assad is President Bashar Assad's first cousin and supports efforts to depose him. Exiled when he was a child, Assad is now the director of the Organization for Democracy and Freedom in Syria. As he tells Weekend Edition guest host Susan Stamberg, his view from London is grim.

On the struggle for power

"Everybody is arming, everybody is following violence, nobody wants to sit together and have dialog. Everybody is in it to win. Everybody is really after power. This could lead to the disintegration of Syria and its society. Everybody will lose out."

On instability in the region

"We are very close to a regional war. Turkey's army is in a state of alert. ... As we have heard, there have been clashes from time to time with the Syrian army and the Jordanian army. The Israeli army is in a state of alert. The Saudi army is in a state of alert. The Iranians have said that they will support the regime of Bashar Assad to the end, which is very scary."

"FSA now is stronger than government army. In the last week, FSA was controlling maybe 10 percent of Aleppo, and now [it] is controlling 50 percent," he says. "Maybe [in] two days or three days, you will see FSA in the center of Aleppo."

Activists say a steady stream of defections is weakening the Syrian army. An activist in the central Syrian city of Tadmor who goes by the nom de guerre Majd al-Tadmori says that enraged authorities are combing the city and killing any defectors they find. Tadmor, also known as Palmyra, is home to many famous Hellenistic and Roman ruins.

"Sometimes they chase defectors through the ruins, near the Baal Temple or the Triumphal Arch," he says. "These ruins shouldn't even have cars driving near them, and the roads there have been closed. But now tanks and heavy vehicles are driving through the area."

On Friday, a jihadist rebel group called Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for the execution of a TV news anchor for Syrian state television, whom the group accused of being an apologist for the shabiha, or pro-regime militia.

The Free Syrian Army has responded to growing criticism of such atrocities. A video recently posted on YouTube purports to show Abdul Razzaq Tlass, an officer with the Free Syrian Army's Farouq Brigade. He pledges that the FSA will abide by the Geneva Convention and allow visits by the International Red Cross.

"We are revolting against a barbaric regime that has always tortured and treated detainees in brutal ways that led to the death of many people," he says in the video. "That's why we can never adopt the behavior of the very entity that we are revolting against."

On Friday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that observers had predicted the current violence and humanitarian crisis in Syria nearly a year and half ago, when anti-government protests began. He blasted the U.N. for its failure to act.

"The next step was also forewarned: a proxy war with regional and international players arming one side or the other," he said. "All of these dire predictions have come to pass."

Following Ban's speech, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the Syrian government's repression. Syria's ambassador to the U.N. dismissed the measure as a "piece of theater."

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