The UN and US have expressed fears over a looming battle in Aleppo, Syria's second-biggest city, after President Bashar al-Assad deployed troops there and began air bombardments.
Reports Friday pointed to an imminent showdown between government troops — reinforced over the past six days of fighting — and opposition forces, braced for an offensive, the Associated Press reported.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the reports coming out of Damascus "along with the reported build-up of forces in and around Aleppo, bodes ill for the people of that city."
Reuters cited the US State Department as saying reports of tank columns moving on Aleppo, along with air strikes by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, represented a serious escalation of Assad's efforts to crush the 16-month-old rebellion.
“This is the concern: that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that’s what the regime appears to be lining up for,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Meanwhile, CNN cited a rebel commander as saying that plans were under way to send 300 more fighters to Aleppo, a city of 3 million that is Syria's commercial capital.
Already, 18 of 22 rebel brigades were located there, he said.
At least 200 people were killed in Syria on Thursday, including 48 in Aleppo and 46 in Damascus and its suburbs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria told CNN.
Heavy shelling was reported in other cities, including Daraa, Idlib and Homs, on Friday, LCC told CNN.
The Syrian government has ramped up military action following a bomb attack that killed four of Assad’s closest lieutenants in Damascus on July 18.
The attack sparked speculation that Assad's regime was losing its grip on power in the country.
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