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Restive Aleppo remains focus for Syrian opposition to Assad regime

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Rebellion continues in the northern Syria city of Aleppo even after a "long hot summer" of repression there, travelers from the city say. They add that the inauguration of a friendship treaty with Moscow early in October by Syria's President Hafez Assad is not likely to help appease his many critics in Aleppo and elsewhere -- rather, it is likely to fuel more complaints.

These critics are spearheaded by a group of three or four banned parties working underground to return Syria to strict observance of Islamic rule.

Collectively known as the Ikhwan (Brotherhood), these groups are each firmly based in one of Syria's important northern cities. Residents of the cities, overwhelmingly Sunni (orthodox) Muslim in allegiance, support the Ikhwan's defense of their interests against the minority Alawites, who control the government in Damascus.

Many of the Ikhwan groups include well-trained urban commando units, armed with rockets and all sorts of light arms, which have assassinated scores of regime supporters over the past two years.

Early this summer, the government indicated that it was going to launch a crackdown to weed out the rebels. By then, the rebels were trying down a large proportion of the Army's elite paratroop units in security operations. This seriously damaged President Assad's prestige among his neighbors.

More restrictions were placed on foreigners visiting Syria, and deployment of the security forces in the recalcitrant cities was stepped up.

One informant from Aleppo reports that the number of security personnel in that city (population just under 1 million) rose to 100,000, and still remains at about that level.

Many of those units are auxiliary police or intelligence personnel. But the total also includes 15,000 members of Syria's elite special-unit commandos, whose original purpose was to confront the Israelis on the Golan Heights.

The security forces are firmly based in Aleppo's striking Roman citadel compound, and in tent camps, requisitioned schools, and public buildings surrounding the ancient trading city, the informant said.

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