The United States has warned that the Syrian regime may be preparing to carry out a massacre in the city of Aleppo, but again ruled out military intervention in the conflict.
Fresh fighting erupted on Friday in Aleppo, Deraa, activists and an opposition rights watchdog reported. The US State Department said on Thursday that credible reports of tank columns moving on Aleppo along with air strikes by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft represented a serious escalation of the government's efforts to crush an armed 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.
Nuland said that despite US concern over the violence, the Obama administration did not contemplate ending its self-imposed ban on direct military help. "We do not believe that pouring more fuel on the fire is going to save lives," Nuland said. "The route out of this is not more violence ... the route out of this is an end to the violence and a beginning to a true political transition process."
Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Turkish-Syrian border town of Masna'a, said that opposition activists say the clashes in Aleppo have already begun.
"There is fighting in a number of neighbourhoods [in Aleppo]. We do know that fighting has been going on for the past few days, with the Free Syrian Army (an armed opposition group) managing to take control of some neighbourhoods. The government is fighting back," she reported.
Nuland, meanwhile, dismissed comparisons between Aleppo and the Libyan city of Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, where warnings of a threatened massacre by Libyan government forces in March 2011 prompted the UN Security Council to authorize military action to protect civilians.
"There are a vast number of differences," Nuland said, citing lack of a UN mandate, more difficult terrain and the absence of a direct call for help by a unified opposition.
"The vast majority of the Syrians want the violence to end. They don't want increased violence," Nuland said. "The kind of groundswell call for external support that we've seen elsewhere is not there."