The Syrian government used helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery to bombard the country’s second city Aleppo this week.
It was trying to push back rebels who have taken control of some areas. As Socialist Worker went to press, the Syrian army claimed it had cleared rebels from the key Salaheddin neighbourhood of Aleppo, though rebels denied this.
The uprisings in Aleppo and the capital Damascus were launched after a rebel bomb attack killed several leading members of the regime two weeks ago.
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was thrown into temporary disarray by the bomb, losing ground to the rebels. But the regime has now hit back by shelling neighbourhoods of the country’s major cities.
The rebels have fought heroically, but they are no match for the army in a straight military conflict. Abdul Saleh, a rebel commander in Aleppo, said, “Even if we lose this battle, we control the countryside. This is a crucial battle for both sides.
“If the regime loses Aleppo then it has lost all together—it will collapse. If we lose, we will withdraw to our posts across the north and stay on the offensive.”
At least 200,000 people have fled the city in the past week. Many more are trapped by the fighting.
The opposition is divided on how to proceed. The leadership of the Free Syrian Army is calling for the West to supply it with heavier weapons to fight Assad’s forces.
Other elements remain rightly suspicious of Western intervention. The US government is scared that Syria could fall apart if the dictatorship is overthrown.
The New York Times worries that this “poses a graver threat to the Middle East and to America’s long-run interests in the region than does Iran’s nuclear program”. But US intervention would be a disaster for Syria’s revolution.
At least 28 high-ranking generals have fled to Turkey. Now Western leaders will be looking for someone who could replace the dictator, without giving in to rebels’ revolutionary demands.
Their preferred alternative is a “power-sharing agreement” between elements of the opposition and members of the Assad regime.
Abdelbasset Sida, head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) coalition of opposition groups, said talks would be held within weeks to form a transitional government between the fall of Assad and democratic elections.
Some members of the current Assad government might also be included. Sida said, “There are some elements in the current regime who are not bloodstained, who were not part of major corruption cases.”
But the SNC is based in Turkey and largely made up of long-term exiles. It has had trouble proving its legitimacy within Syria, where the Local Coordinating Committees that built the revolution don’t accept its authority.
It is the Syrian masses who are leading the revolution and its victory must be by their hands.