* Syrian opposition leader says rebels need no-fly zone
* U.S., Turkey to explore such a zone among other options
By Hadeel Al Shalchi
ALEPPO, Syria, Aug 13 Syrian rebels fighting to
oust President Bashar al-Assad need the protection of no-fly
zones and safe havens patrolled by foreign forces near the
borders with Jordan and Turkey, a Syrian opposition leader said.
Battles raged on Sunday in the northern city of Aleppo,
where tanks, artillery and snipers attacked rebels in the Saif
al-Dawla district next to the devastated area of Salaheddine.
Syrian civilians desperate to check on their homes pushed
into fluid front lines around Salaheddine, even as sniper fire
cracked out and rebels warned them to stay away.
Abdelbasset Sida, head of the Syrian National Council, said
the United States had realised that the absence of a no-fly zone
to counter Assad's air superiority hindered rebel movements.
He was speaking a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton said her country and Turkey would study a range of
possible measures to help Assad's foes, including a no-fly zone,
although she indicated no decisions were necessarily imminent.
"It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential
actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing
intense analysis and operational planning," she said after
meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul.
Though any intervention appears to be a distant prospect,
her remarks were nevertheless the closest Washington has come to
suggesting direct military action in Syria.
"There are areas that are being liberated," Sida told
Reuters by telephone from Istanbul. "But the problem is the
aircraft, in addition to the artillery bombardment, causing
He said the establishment of secure areas on the borders
with Jordan and Turkey "was an essential thing that would
confirm to the regime that its power is diminishing bit by bit".
A no-fly zone imposed by NATO and Arab allies helped Libyan
rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year. The West has shown
little appetite for repeating any Libya-style action in Syria,
and Russia and China strongly oppose any such intervention.
Insurgents have expanded territory they hold near the
Turkish border in the last few weeks since the Syrian army
gathered its forces for an offensive to regain control of
Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and economic hub.
Rebels who seized swathes of the city three weeks ago have
been fighting to hold their ground against troops backed by
warplanes, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery.
One rebel commander named Yasir Osman, 35, told Reuters
tanks had advanced into Salaheddine, despite attempts to fend
them off by 150 fighters he said were short of ammunition.
"Yesterday we encircled the Salaheddine petrol station,
which the army has been using as a base, and we killed its
commander and took a lot of ammunition and weapons. This
ammunition is what we are using to fight today," he said.
Aleppo and the capital Damascus, where troops snuffed out a
rebel offensive last month, are vital to Assad's struggle for
the survival of a ruling system his family and members of his
minority Alawite clan have dominated for four decades.
Assad has suffered some painful, but not yet fatal, setbacks
away from the battlefield, losing four of his closest aides in a
bomb explosion on July 18 and suffering the embarrassment of
seeing his prime minister defect and flee to Jordan last week.
Syrian state television showed Assad swearing in Wael
al-Halki on Saturday to replace Riyad Hijab, who had only spent
two months in the job. Halki is a Sunni Muslim from the southern
province of Deraa where the uprising began 17 months ago.
The deputy police commander in the central province of Homs
was the latest to join a steady trickle of desertions, said an
official in the opposition Higher Revolution Council group.
"Brigadier General Ibrahim al-Jabawi has crossed into
Jordan," the official told Reuters from Amman.
At least 20 people were killed on Sunday in the second day
of an armoured offensive to retake the northern Damascus suburb
of al-Tel from rebels, opposition activists said.
Heavy artillery barrages were hitting the Sunni Muslim town
as loyalist troops made a renewed push after an attempt to storm
Tel on Saturday was repelled, several activists and Free Syrian
Army sources in the area said.
The Arab League said it had postponed a meeting of Arab
foreign ministers scheduled for Sunday to discuss the Syria
crisis and to select a replacement for Kofi Annan, the United
Nations-Arab League envoy, and would set a new date.
Deputy Arab League chief Ahmed Ben Helli told Reuters the
meeting was delayed because of a minor operation undergone by
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are the leading regional
supporters of the Syrian opposition. Assad's main backers are
Iran and Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah movement.