Syria envoy to London defects as fighting rages

2,00,000 have fled Aleppo: UN

Written by Associated Press | London | Published: July 31, 2012 12:05:00 am

Syria’s top diplomat in London said he could no longer represent the regime and defected Monday,as civilians fled the commercial hub of Aleppo in droves amid 10 days of fierce battles between rebels and government forces.

Britain’s Foreign Office said that Khaled al-Ayoubi,the charge d’affaires,told officials that he wasn’t willing to represent the regime any longer,the latest high-profile defection of a diplomat from Syria over the bloody crackdown on the opposition since March 2011.

Fighting is heating up in Aleppo,Syria’s largest city with 3 million people. The UN said 2,00,000 Syrians have left over the past 10 days as the government trains its mortars,tank and helicopter gunships on the neighbourhoods seized by the rebels.

“I am extremely concerned by the impact of shelling and use of tanks and other heavy weapons on people in Aleppo,” Valerie Amos,the top UN official for humanitarian affairs,said in a statement late Sunday.

Aleppo is some 50 km away from the Turkish border and some of those fleeing the city are headed for Turkey,where tens of thousands of Syrians have already found refuge during the 17-month uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad’s rule.

Turkey is deploying more troops to the border,sending tanks,armoured combat vehicles,more missile launchers and infantry troops,the state-run Anadolu agency reported. Greece has responded by quadrupling the number of guards on its borders with Turkey out of fear of a potential influx of Syrian refugees.

Those fleeing Aleppo have described to The Associated Press incessant shelling,shortages of food and gasoline and soaring black market prices for everyday staples. In online videos they can be seen scurrying through streets against a backdrop of gunfire and climbing onto any form of transportation available to escape,including trucks,cars and even heavily laden motorcycles.

Videos of the attack on the checkpoint posted Monday in the Internet show fierce exchanges of fire in the early morning and then later,victorious rebels hauling out boxes of ammunitionfor the fight in Aleppo.

State media had reported the army had “purged” Aleppo’s neighbourhood of Salaheddine and inflicted “great losses” upon the rebels. Activists,however,disputed these claims.

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