Syria military resists major rebel assault in Aleppo

Fighters from the jihadist al-Nusra Front in Aleppo (26 May 2015)

The rebel alliance mounting the offensive includes al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria

The Syrian military has carried out a series of air strikes after rebel forces launched a major assault to take control of the northern city of Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels fired hundreds of rockets and shells into at least seven government-held areas late on Thursday.

By Friday morning, they had made small advances, the monitoring group added.

But the Syrian state news agency Sana said the assault had been repelled and more than 100 “terrorists” killed.

Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial and industrial hub, has been divided roughly in half between government-held areas in the west and rebel-controlled eastern quarters for the past three years.

Fighting on the ground and government air strikes have left thousands dead, and destroyed more than 60% of the Old City, a Unesco World Heritage site.

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Aleppo has been a key battleground of the uprising since June 2012

 

But in recent months, the rebels have driven government forces out of several areas in the countryside to the north, as well as almost all of the neighbouring province of Idlib.

More than 230,000 people are believed to have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Some 11.5 million others – more than half of the country’s population – have fled their homes.

‘Heavy casualties’

Rebels have made numerous attempts to seize key installations held by the government, but with little effect, reports the BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut.

On Thursday, 13 Islamist fighting groups and al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, came together to launch a co-ordinated assault on several fronts.

They said the aim of their new coalition, called Ansar al-Sharia, was to “liberate” Aleppo and govern it according to Islamic law.

Fighters later fired mortars and rockets at western districts of the city controlled by government forces, the Syrian Observatory reported.

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The fighting in Syria’s second city has had a devastating impact on its residents

 

The UK-based group said the fighting continued into the early hours of Friday and was focused on the frontline in Jamiyat al-Zahra, a heavily-defended area that houses several major security compounds.

At least nine people were killed and dozens wounded by the rebel barrage, it added.

The military responded with a heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of rebel positions in the city, and the fighting continued for several hours.

On Friday morning, military sources told Sana and Reuters news agency that the assault had been repelled and that heavy casualties had been inflicted on the rebels.

nullGovernment forces have suffered a string of defeats in recent months in the north and south

 

The Syrian Observatory said the rebels had managed to seize some buildings in the north-western outskirts of Aleppo, but that the gains were not of strategic importance.

Our correspondent says that if the rebels do manage to capture all Aleppo, it would be a huge blow to the government.

There have been persistent reports in recent weeks that it is preparing to give up both the northern city, and Deraa in the south, the better to defend the core areas of western Syria with the limited manpower at its disposal, he adds.

But state media reported that the prime minister has just been in Aleppo, visiting front-line units and dispensing large amounts of cash to the cityauthorities [sic] for reconstruction and administrative expenses.null

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