BEIRUT -- Syrian rebels said they made a partial and tactical withdrawal Thursday from parts of the Aleppo neighborhood of Salahuddin, a strategic district that has been the focus of much of the combat in the country's most populous city.
Syrian military tanks and snipers moved into the small area left by the insurgents on the second day of what appeared to be a heightened effort by the government to take back rebel-controlled neighborhoods. For weeks state media have been threatening of a "mother of all battles."
Pounded by continuous fire from tanks and warplanes, fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army pulled back from the front line during the afternoon as they reportedly were running low on ammunition.
The opposition stressed that it was not withdrawing from the neighborhood itself, something militias here have vowed not to do as they enter the fourth week of fighting in Aleppo in what is seen as a crucial battleground between President Bahsar Assad's government and those fighting for his ouster.
Rebel reinforcements are moving into Salahuddin in order to retake the front line, said one activist, who requested to be identified by the nickname Abu Omar for security reasons.
"There is no thought of withdrawal and no likelihood of a withdrawal," he said.
But even as the rebels lost ground in Salahuddin, they were able to fight off an attempted incursion into the central Bab Al Hadeed district by five armored vehicles, destroying two of them, said Abu Firas, an activist with the Free Syrian Army who also requested to be identified by a nickname.
In another part of the city, Bustan Al Basha, rebel fighters were able to expand their control, Abu Firas said.
"They liberated it despite the shelling," Abu Firas said, speaking from the rebel-controlled Hanano district. "There is heavy shelling and destruction and buildings have crumbled to the ground. It is scary."
Meanwhile in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi hosted a conference for a number of foreign diplomats on the Syria conflict and ways to end the violence. Diplomats from Russia, China and Iraq attended.
In his opening remarks, Salehi called for talks between the two sides in Syria and said Iran had sent medicine and food to help with the growing humanitarian crisis in the country.
-- Times staff
Photo: A television image released by the Syrian Arab News Agency on Thursday shows Syrian soldiers battling opposition forces in Aleppo's Salahuddin district the day before. Credit: AFP / Syrian Arab News Agency