In villages across Syria there is great concern for the city of Aleppo, where the violence seen in the last few days could be nothing compared to what's coming. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
Even as the United Nations General Assembly on Friday overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning the Syrian regime for unleashing its military might against its people, Syrian forces stormed the last rebel stronghold in the capital Damascus, using tanks and armored vehicles, and blasted rebels in the commercial city of Aleppo with artillery.
The UN resolution condemned "the increasing use by the Syrian authorities of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and helicopters, in population centers and the failure to withdraw its troops and the heavy weapons to their barracks …"
It called for "an inclusive Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system'' and expressed "concern at the threat by the Syrian authorities to use chemical or biological weapons.''
The resolution, designed to highlight the Syrian regime’s isolation, was approved by 133 members, with 31 abstentions.
But the vote, coming two weeks after the Security Council failed to agree on collective action to stop the bloodshed, also highlighted the breakdown of diplomacy as 12 countries, most notably China and Russia, voted against the non-binding text, which included calls for political transition.
China and Russia are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
Moscow condemned the document as "harmful" and tantamount to supporting rebels that are fighting to oust Assad, Reuters reported.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his regret over the divisions that have paralyzed action in the Security Council, said the U.N. news center’s account of the meeting.
"The conflict in Syria is a test of everything this organization stands for," it said Ban told the U.N. meeting. "I do not want today’s United Nations to fail that test."
Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images
A vandalised mural depicting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R), his late father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad (C) and his late brother Bassel al-Assad in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday.
Ban said that despite repeated verbal acceptances of the six-point plan presented by Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, both the government and the opposition continue to rely on weapons, not diplomacy.
Annan resigned as envoy on Thursday, underlining the failure of mediation efforts in the conflict.
Meantime, a senior U.N. official said a long-expected army onslaught to take Aleppo, Syria's largest city and economic hub, was imminent following a buildup of army reinforcements, Reuters reported.
Rebels poured into Aleppo in July after being largely driven from the capital, Damascus, where they had launched an offensive that coincided with July 18 a bomb blast that killed four top security officials.
Fighting in the two main cities has continued to intensify in the weeks since.
Rebels told Reuters journalists inside Aleppo on Friday that they had captured a large police station after days of clashes.
Rebel commander Abu Zaher said fighters had taken several police officers prisoner and seized weapons and ammunition.
Other rebels said heavy fighting was taking place in Saleheddine, the main battleground district. They say 50 of their fighters have been killed there in the last several days.
In the capital, Syrian troops entered Damascus's southern district of Tadamon with dozens of tanks and armored vehicles in a push to win back the last rebel stronghold there, a witness and activists said.
Activists said most of the district was under the control of government forces by early Friday evening. The army had been trying to enter Tadamon for more than a week but was pushed back by fierce resistance from the rebels.
"As we meet here, Aleppo ... is the epicenter of a vicious battle between the Syrian government and those who wish to replace it,'' Ban told the meeting on Friday.
"The acts of brutality that are being reported may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes,'' he said.
"Such acts must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account.''
Both sides accuse the other of summary executions and mass killings in Aleppo.
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