Syrian troops battle rebels near Damascus, Aleppo
Beirut: Syrian government forces fought rebels outside the capital Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday as more civilians streamed across the border into neighboring Turkey to escape the civil war in their country.
Meanwhile, UN diplomats in New York said the search was on for another envoy to replace Kofi Annan who gave up trying to broker peace in Syria and who is leaving by the end of the month.
The diplomats said former Algerian foreign affairs minister and longtime UN official Lakhdar Brahimi is a strong candidate to take over from Annan. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were authorized to speak to the media.
Annan, a former UN chief, announced his resignation last week as joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, ending a frustrating six-month effort that failed to achieve even a temporary cease-fire as the conflict in the country descended into a full-out civil war.
The search for Annan`s replacement suggested the international community was not entirely giving up on diplomacy to try end the conflict that has claimed the lives of at least 20,000 people, according to human rights activists.
Britain`s government, meanwhile, said it was offering 5 million pounds (USD 7.8 million) to Syria`s rebel forces Friday to pay for communications equipment and medical supplies in an effort to bolster ties with the Syrian opposition.
Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that the UK would not supply any weapons, but confirmed the funds would pay for items including satellite phones, power generators and medical kits.
He said diplomats would also intensify contacts with the political wing of the Free Syrian Army as concern grows over the country`s possible fate if President Bashar Assad`s regime is deposed.
Over the past two weeks, the northern city of Aleppo has shaped up to be the main battleground between Assad`s forces and the rebels fighting for his ouster.
Aleppo holds great symbolic and strategic importance. Some 40 kilometres from the Turkish border, it has been a pillar of regime support during the uprising. An opposition victory there would allow easier access for weapons and fighters from Turkey, where many rebels are based.
But rebels there say there are low on ammunition after a two-week withering assault. Despite that, they were still clashing with government troops today in opposition bastions of Aleppo, a city of 3 million people.
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