Free Syrian Army member stands by anti-aircra
Free Syrian Army member stands by anti-aircra Reuters

Syrian rebels claimed they assassinated an Iranian diplomat in Damascus as war continues in the city of Aleppo. The Egyptian Al Arabiya website reported the assassination, which it said could not be confirmed. No details were available.

The assassination, if true, would mark another psychological victory against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who literally has been fighting for his life since the Arab Spring protests began in Syria nearly a year and a half ago.

Western officials' estimates of his being on the way out of power have been premature, and he has survived through the use of aerial bombings and brutal massacres of civilians.

However, the Syrian Free Army now has declared that it has acquired more than 20 surface-to-air missiles, and Western sources have not disputed the claim. Last week, rebels said they downed a Syrian army helicopter flying over the capital, where fierce battles have been fought.

Meanwhile, the head of the rebel Free Syrian Army attacked on Wednesday the formation of a new political coalition outside Syria that plans to establish a transitional government, calling its leaders opportunists who seek to divide the opposition and benefit from the rebels’ gains.

The Council for the Syrian Revolution was launched by a group of 70 exiled Syrian activists at a news conference in Cairo on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

The emergence of new alliance marks the latest effort by Syria’s divided opposition to forge a political alternative to President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are trying to put down a 16-month armed uprising.

The Syrian military has stepped up a military campaign to drive rebels out of Aleppo, the country’s biggest city, using helicopter gunships and other heavy weapons.

Syrian combat aircraft and artillery pounded Aleppo late into the night on Tuesday. Large clouds of black smoke rose into the sky earlier in the day after attack helicopters turned their machineguns on eastern districts for the first time in the latest fighting and a MiG warplane later strafed the same area.

The battle for Aleppo has become a crucial test for both sides in the 16-month-old rebellion. Neither Assad's forces nor the rag-tag rebels can afford to lose if they hope to prevail in the wider struggle for Syria.

Heavy gunfire echoed around the Salaheddine district in the southwest of the city, scene of some of the worst clashes, with shells raining in for most of the day.

Reuters journalists have established that neither the Syrian army nor rebel fighters are in full control of the quarter, which the government said it had taken on Sunday.

One journalist said Salaheddine resembled a "ghost town", its shops shuttered, with no sign of life.

The fighting has proved costly for the 2.5 million residents of the commercial hub of Aleppo. Rebels say they will turn Aleppo into the "grave" of the Assad government. Thousands of residents have fled and those who remain face shortages of food and fuel and the ever-present risk of injury or death.

"We have hardly any power or water, our wives and kids have left us here to watch the house and have gone somewhere safer," said Jumaa, a 45-year-old construction worker, who complained it was nearly impossible to observe the fasting month of Ramadan.

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