New clashes, shelling seen in Syria’s two biggest cities

New clashes and military shelling were reported Sunday in Syria’s two major cities, as the warring sides in the country’s escalating conflict intensified their information battle on the airwaves, the Internet and social media.

A rebel commander, identified as Col. Abduljabbar Aqidi, declared in an opposition video released on YouTube that the battle had begun to “liberate” the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial and business hub.

Reached by Skype, Aqidi said rebels controlled three neighborhoods, and had repulsed a counterattack by government forces, killing 20 soldiers. Clashes continued into the night, he said.

The official state media, on the other hand, reported that authorities in Aleppo had inflicted “heavy losses” on “terrorists,” the government’s language for the armed rebels.

In a conflict that many now view as sectarian in nature, the rebel colonel publicly vowed to protect the rights of minority Christians and Alawites, the sect of President Bashar Assad. The rebellion has risen from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority. Aleppo has a substantial population of Christians.

In Damascus, opposition activists reported a determined military assault on the Mezzeh district, home to many embassies and offices. One activist in the city reported at least eight killed and 60 wounded.


President renews apology for French complicity with Nazis

French President Francois Hollande on Sunday made an emotional mea culpa on behalf of his country for its part in the World War II roundup and deportation of more than 13,000 Jews from Paris.

On the 70th anniversary of what are known as the Vel d’Hiv Raids, Hollande admitted the operation carried out by Paris police in 1942 was a “crime committed in France, by France.”

Hollande also praised former president and political rival Jacques Chirac, who in 1995 became the first French leader to admit the roundup had been “France’s fault.”

Until then, French presidents, including Hollande’s Socialist mentor Francois Mitterrand, had contended that the wartime collaborationist Vichy government led by Marshall Philippe Petain did not represent the French Republic.

On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police rounded up 13,152 Jews from Paris and its suburbs. It was the first case in which women and children were included in the French arrests.

Entire families were ordered from their homes in dawn raids and taken to the Velodrome d’Hiver (the Winter Velodrome) in the French capital, where they were kept for days without food and water before being deported to German concentration camps.

These raids accounted for more than a quarter of the estimated 42,000 Jews sent from France to the Auschwitz camp in 1942. Jewish organizations say only 811 of them returned.


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