The turn of Aleppo

Reports now of an armored column moving toward Syrias's largest city and commercial hub Aleppo. If they give the same treatment to Aleppo that Syria's army just gave Damascus, it is going to be bloody indeed.


Syria sent thousands of troops surging toward Aleppo in the early hours of Wednesday, where its forces have been pounding rebel fighters from the air, engulfing the country's largest city in total warfare to put down a revolt.

"[President Bashar] Assad is fighting hard here because he has already lost control of nearly all the towns around Aleppo," NBC News' chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel said from the city's outskirts on Tuesday.

Recent days have seen Syria's 16-month-old uprising transformed from an insurgency in remote provinces into a battle for control of the two main cities, Aleppo and the slightly smaller capital, Damascus, where fighting exploded last week.

President Bashar Assad's forces have launched massive counter assaults in both cities. They appear to have beaten rebels back from neighborhoods in the capital and are turning toward Aleppo, a commercial hub in the north.

Dozens are reported dead in Syria where opposition forces are fighting to maintain control of Syria's commercial capital and biggest city. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

Syrian forces fired artillery and rocket barrages early on Wednesday at the northern Damascus suburb of al-Tel in an attempt to seize the town from rebels, causing mass panic and forcing hundreds of families to flee the area, residents and opposition activists said.

The 216th mechanized battalion headquartered near Tel started bombarding the town of about 100,000 people at 3:15 a.m. (8:15 p.m. ET Tuesday) and initial reports indicated residential apartment blocks were being hit, they said.

"Military helicopters are flying now over the town. People were awakened by the sound of explosions and are running away," Rafe Alam, one of the activists, said by phone from a hill overlooking Tel. "Electricity and telephones have been cut off."

There are also reports of jets dropping bombs on civilian targets.

The rebels still can't hold territory, but they are keeping Assad's best troops occupied in Damascus and Aleppo. By withdrawing his crack units from other venues, he allows the rebels to build up strength in outlying provinces so that when Assad once again turns his attention to the hinterlands, the rebels will be in a stronger position.

Assad can't win militarily and the opposition is refusing a political settlement that would keep him in power. So killing civilians is about all he can do for the present. And Aleppo is about to find out what war is all about.