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Syria rushes reinforcements to its largest city
Aleppo » Rumors are swirling of a final showdown in the important city.

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On Wednesday, Saeed, the Aleppo activist, described fierce battles in neighborhoods all over the city, including some near the center.

Aleppo’s historic old city at the center is a U.N. world heritage site.

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"Shooting and clashes are going on nonstop," Saeed said.

There are no immediate prospects for international action in Syria or the kind of NATO air campaign that tipped the scales against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. NATO and the U.N. have all but ruled out foreign military intervention, in part out of fears that it would only make the country’s problems worse. The U.S. and its allies have shown little appetite for getting involved in another Arab nation in turmoil.

Russia, Syria’s longtime ally and a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, has ensured that the kind of U.N. resolutions that allowed Western military action in Libya would not be repeated in Syria. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized new European efforts to enforce an arms embargo as "unilateral sanctions" and a "blockade."

The new commander of the U.N. observer force, Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye, and the U.N. official for peacekeeping operations, Hervé Ladsous, were in Damascus on Wednesday to assess the prospects for a U.N. peace plan that is being widely ignored.

Half of the 300-member U.N. observer force, meant to monitor the nonexistent cease-fire, has left the country.

"I think diplomats have to be optimistic and that’s no joke, I think we have to hope," Ladsous told reporters. "We have to hope that the whole process gains traction, that the vicious circle of violence can cease, and that some political solution and first and foremost some political dialogue can get started."

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