World and Nation

Fighting spreads through Aleppo as city services vanish

BEIRUT — Chaos continued to spread in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, on Monday, as rebels attacked the towering municipality building with rockets, sending civil servants fleeing from one of the few government buildings still functioning as dozens of soldiers defended the city center.

“We don’t want to hurt the employees, but we want them not to come to work or they will be killed,” Sa’id Abu Abdo, 25, an armed insurgent, told a reporter in Aleppo after the attack. “We will liberate each building in the city.”

In a city that was once considered a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad, and for a time was spared armed conflict, two months of pitched battles have taken a heavy toll, disrupting the city and threatening to open new rifts among ethnic groups that have long coexisted there.

For a reporter who last visited the city six weeks ago, the contrast Monday was striking. Municipal services have collapsed in many areas, and Christian, Kurdish and wealthy Sunni Muslim neighborhoods that had felt secure when fighting began are seeing clashes once limited to the poorer Sunni areas. In one Aleppo neighborhood, corpses lay uncollected, gnawed by cats and dogs, and piles of garbage attracted clouds of black flies.

Most of the city’s malls and many health centers in anti-government neighborhoods were closed. Even police stations appeared abandoned; the force draws mostly from rural and working-class areas where support for the uprising is strong. Some residents reported that their neighborhoods had been without drinking water or electricity for weeks.

Some Christians, historically a vital part of Aleppo’s bustling ethnic mix, have taken up arms to guard their neighborhoods and churches. Many of Syria’s minority communities have either sided with Assad, fearing his fall will leave them vulnerable to the Sunni-led opposition, or stayed out of the conflict because they did not trust either side.

One man patrolling his largely Christian neighborhood with a Kalashnikov said the government was arming Armenian Christians in what he called an attempt to draw them into the conflict.

“Today it is clear for us that the Muslims from the countryside want to destroy our city,” he said, “They have nothing to lose.”

He identified himself as Gano, an Armenian member of what he called a popular committee recently organized to defend the neighborhood, Aziziyah, which was sheltering refugees from other Christian neighborhoods where fighting had broken out.

But he said he mistrusted the government, which he said was trying to revive an armed Armenian group it had once supported against Turkey.

“No way, because we will be a legitimate target for the Muslim rebels,” he said. “The regime wants to use us.”

He added, “We want to live in peace or leave. We are a minority in this country and cannot face the Muslim majority.”