Conflicting reports emerge from war-torn Aleppo
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Conflicting reports emerge from war-torn Aleppo

Rebels deny the army’s claims of progress as US defense secretary calls battles ‘a nail in Assad’s coffin’

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces battled rebels over one of their strongholds in the northern city of Aleppo on Monday, with each side claiming victory.

According to an AFP report rebel forces captured a strategically important checkpoint between the northern city of Aleppo and Turkey after a 10-hour battle.

The US defense secretary, meanwhile, kicked off a tour of the Middle East criticizing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of heavy weapons in putting down the rebellion, describing it as “a nail in Assad’s coffin.”

The Syrian government announced late Sunday it had “purged” the district of Salahhedine and inflicted “great losses” upon the rebels — a claim which opposition activists dispute.

“They were just in part of Salaheddine, not in the center,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Activists on the ground in Aleppo confirmed that the fighting was ongoing and no government forces were inside the neighborhood of Salaheddine, one of the first to revolt against the government in this city of 3 million.

“They have tanks in nearby Hamdaniya and there is fighting, and there have been random bombardments of Salaheddine,” said Mohammed Saeed, who is based in the embattled city.

The government has massed forces outside Aleppo and began an assault over the weekend to retake the commercial hub. The international community has expressed fears over a possible massacre of civilians if the fighting escalates.

While giving no indication that the Obama administration is contemplating military intervention, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said it is increasingly clear that the Syrian crisis is deepening and that Assad is hastening his own demise.

“If they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people … I think it ultimately will be a nail in Assad’s coffin,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him from Washington. “His regime is coming to an end.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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