Rebels Retreat In Aleppo As Assad Names New PM
As the Wall Street Journal reports, rebel fighters had to vacate their positions in the Salaheddin district at the southern end of the city, which was on the front lines of the battle. Rebel forces have been in control of the territory north of Aleppo stretching to the Turkish border, where Free Syrian Army officials and not employees of the Assad government man the checkpoints.
The Syrian government played up its effort at Salaheddin, as the state news agency spoke of a "decisive victory" and "purging" of rebel fighters from certain neighborhoods, according to the New York Times. The regime also announced that the current minister of health Wael Nader al-Halqi would be taking over as prime minster, replacing the previous occupant of the post who had recently defected to Jordan.
As the regime and the rebels dig in for what looks to be a bloody and protracted battle for Aleppo, both sides are also fighting a soft power battle through media and diplomacy. As the New York Times reports:
"The propaganda war seems to have increased as international interest in the war has grown. And increasingly in recent days, each side has also sought to depict the other as sustained by foreign forces.
The rebels claim that Russia and Iran — Mr. Assad’s sturdiest international and regional allies — have sent advisers, while state media insist that rebels ranks are swollen with foreign fighters."
While the battle raged in Aleppo, Iran hosted a summit of lower-level officials, excluding those from the West and most Arab countries, who agreed to back an Iranian plan for a three-month ceasefire and diplomatic talks. Representatives from China and Russia, the two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council who have repeatedly obstructed more forceful intervention by the international body, were present at this gathering in Tehran. Like China and Russia, Iran has long been allied with the Assad regime, and appears to be ramping up its efforts to protect it. As Reuters reports:
"The Islamic Republic has resisted an agreement on Syria that requires Assad to quit as part of any political transition. There is no sign that Tehran is ready to adopt a new approach, despite setbacks for Assad including the defection this week of his prime minister.
But analysts say the recent signs of cracks in the Syrian leadership have taken Iran by surprise.
'Iran is trying to show strength and regional presence,' said Scott Lucas of the EA Worldview news website that specializes in covering Iran. But he noted the timing of Thursday's meeting seemed rushed, given that Tehran will host a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement later this month.
'They seem to be so jittery about Syria, they couldn't afford to wait,' Lucas suggested."
Bloodshed in Aleppo looks certain to get worse, but the international effort to stop the war remains a top priority. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in Turkey on Saturday to discuss the situation with a key pro-rebel ally, and as Reuters reports, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi is set to replace Kofi Annan as the U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria in an attempt to rejuvenate talks on that end.
Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of Syria here.
Reach Executive Producer Matt Pressberg here.