ALEPPO, Syria, July 27 (UPI) -- Fierce fighting between Syrian troops and opposition forces broke out Friday throughout Aleppo, officials said.
Opposition members said a victory in Aleppo could be key for the rebels, as they would take control of Syria's economic center, as well as an important border crossing with Turkey through which opposition-bound arms and other supplies have been coming in recent months, RIA Novosti reported.
An estimated 2,000 rebel soldiers positioned in Aleppo were reinforced by about 2,000 more, including foreign fighters, activists said.
Rebel forces claim to control 60 percent of Aleppo as well as the main road to the airport, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported Friday.
Panicked residents said Aleppo was rife with rumors President Bashar Assad's elite Fourth Armored Division, commanded by his younger brother Maher Assad, was mobilizing for a counteroffensive -- including a possible "scorched earth" operation, destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through the city.
"We are terrified," a resident named Ahmed told The New York Times.
France called for U.N. action to stop a potential "bloodbath."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned world powers not to repeat mistakes they made in the 1992-95 Bosnian War that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia.
"I don't want to see any of my successors after 20 years visiting Syria and apologizing for what we could have done now to protect civilians in Syria, which we are not doing," Ban said in Srebenica, scene of a July 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mostly men and boys, by the Bosnian Serb Army.
Then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is now the U.S.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, described the Srebenica massacre as the worst war crime on European soil since World War II.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington Thursday the Obama administration was concerned "we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that's what the regime appears to be lining up for."
She said the administration was not reconsidering its stance against military intervention, saying, "We do not think pouring more fuel onto the fire is going to save lives."
Shelling occurred in and around Aleppo overnight, said residents who hadn't fled the nearly Chicago-size city of more than 2 million.
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