Syrian government troops stepped up their campaign to drive rebels out of Aleppo Monday, but rebel fighters said they were holding firm and would turn the country's largest city into the "grave of the regime."
Opposition activists denied a government declaration that its forces had recaptured the Salaheddine district, in southwest Aleppo, which lies across the main route for Syrian troop reinforcements coming from the south, Reuters reported.
Hospitals and makeshift clinics in rebel-held eastern neighborhoods were filling up with casualties from a week of fighting in the city, a commercial hub drawn into the 16-month-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
"Some days we get around 30, 40 people, not including the bodies," said a young medic in one clinic. "A few days ago, we got 30 injured and maybe 20 corpses, but half of those bodies were ripped to pieces. We can't figure out who they are."
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 40 people, 30 of them civilians, were killed in Syria on Monday. Two rebel fighters died in Salaheddine.
Outgunned rebels, patrolling in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black "independence" flags, said they were holding out in Salaheddine despite a battering by the army's heavy weapons and helicopter gunships.
"We always knew the regime's grave would be Aleppo," Mohammed, a young fighter, told Reuters, fingering the bullets in his tattered brown ammunition vest.
"Damascus is the capital, but here we have a fourth of the country's population and the entire force of its economy. Bashar's forces will be buried here."
Vital supplies were running out in certain areas of Aleppo, the BBC reported, and remaining residents face long queues for bread.
Cars and trucks were seen carrying people out the city, but most of those fleeing are women and children, with the men opting to stay and fight.
So far, however, the government's superiority on the ground means rebels have had little success in holding on to urban territory. The rebels made a major push into Damascus two weeks ago but were driven out.
But even as Assad's forces have poured resources into sustaining their hold on the major population centers, they have steadily been losing control of the countryside, in a series of seesawing battles that have not yet proved decisive but that appear to be giving the momentum to the rebels, the Washington Post reports.
Meanwhile, Iran, Assad's closest ally, warned Turkey not to intervene militarily, the Syrian state-controlled al-Watan newspaper said.
"Any attack on Syrian territory will meet with a harsh response, and the Iranian-Syrian mutual defense agreement will be activated," it reported on Monday, according to the BBC.
The newspaper said Turkey and the U.S. were planning to create "a safe haven guarded by the armed gangs" in the north of Syria.
"Turkey has received very strong warnings in the past few hours and the following message: Beware changing the rules of the game," al-Watan said.
Turkey has said it will use troops if necessary to prevent another Halabja, a reference to the notorious 1988 chemical gas massacre in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
To contact the editor, e-mail: