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Fighter Jets Screech Above Aleppo, Syria's Largest City

Jul 24, 2012

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Korva Coleman

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Rebels and Syrian government troops continue to battle in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and home to many supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Several reports say the government is using helicopters to attack neighborhoods where rebel fighters are hiding.

There's been fighting for four days and it's apparently ranged from downtown Aleppo to a major city prison, where inmates staged a protest: as many as 15 inmates may have died, according to Voice of America.

The Guardian, live blogging Syrian events, reports a rebel group in Aleppo claims it wrested control of four city districts.

That could explain a tweet from BBC correspondent Ian Pannell, who reports the Syrian government is bombing the eastern part of Aleppo with fighter jets. "A significant escalation and perhaps the first time they've been used in #Syrian conflict," he writes.

That hasn't been confirmed. The Associated Press reports fighter jets are over the city; they're flying so fast they're breaking the sound barrier, perhaps in an effort to scare rebels.

Now the rebels allege the Assad government has moved its chemical weapons stores to the border, notes AFP. As Mark wrote yesterday, Syria disclosed that it had the chemical weapons, but a foreign ministry spokesman suggested they'd only be used against foreigners. That did not go over well in the rest of the world, with the U.S. warning Syria it would be a tragic mistake to deploy them.

Now the Guardian says Syria is "backpedaling furiously" on the chemical weapon remarks, and the Syrian foreign ministry claims yesterday's statement wasn't reported accurately. Officials say Syria never really admitted owning chemical weapons in the first place.

Update at 1:35 p.m. ET. Reports About Syria's Supposed Stockpile "Can Be Sketchy."

NPR's Tom Bowman, who last week reported for us about how worried some U.S. officials are about the prospect of the Assad regime using chemical weapons, has filed a similar report for today's All Things Considered. He adds this caution, though, from Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"We have to look back at our experience at dealing with Iraq and Libya where repeatedly our intelligence on weapons of mass destruction has been inaccurate in some very important ways. ... We should probably be very careful and modest about what we think we know about Syria's program."

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