Fighting rages across Syrian city of Aleppo

Aleppoxx
BEIRUT -- Some of the fiercest clashes in weeks in the Syrian city of Aleppo were reported Friday as rebels said they were pressing a “decisive” battle for the besieged northern metropolis.

As night fell, it was unclear if either side had made any substantial advances in the city, which has been divided between government and opposition forces for more than two months. The battle had evolved into a brutal war of attrition until Friday's spike in urban combat.

There was no overall casualty count from Friday’s clashes in what is Syria’s most populous city and its commercial hub. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the city and the once-vibrant economy has ground to a halt since fighting broke out in July.

One opposition activist reached inside the city said the fierce clashes early Friday had died down by the afternoon. Another opposition activist, who goes by the nickname Tony Al Taieb,  acknowledged that the “liberation” of Aleppo “is still a little far off.”

The official state news agency reported that the army had inflicted “heavy losses” on “terrorists”—as it calls the armed opposition—during intense clashes in several neighborhoods, including the historic Old City, which has been the scene of heavy combat for weeks.

A rebel spokesman told Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite network, that fighting raged across 10 different fronts in the city.

Rebel units brought six captured tanks into the city early Friday and deployed militiamen from the suburbs, said Al Taieb, the opposition activist, reached via  Skype. The rebels burned garbage to provide cover from air raids,  but government jets attacked after the smoke cleared, the activist said.

The government, using artillery, tanks and aircraft, has a major firepower advantage in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, where an 18-month uprising seeks to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.

Despite the fighting, the opposition reported that protesters took to the streets of several districts of Aleppo after Friday's Muslim  prayers to demand Assad's ouster.

A pro-opposition group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said nearly 20 shells fired by rebel fighters in Aleppo fell on the  government-controlled district of Suleimaniya, home to many Christians, killing four people.

An unverified opposition video posted on the Internet showed a bearded fighter with a walkie talkie identified as a leader of the al-Tawheed Brigade, a major rebel unit, urging comrades forward and declaring, “Today, God willing, is a decisive day in Aleppo. Just persevere, and follow the path of God.”

The enthusiastic rebels then proceeded in an uneven column along a debris-strewn street, carrying their assorted weapons, a collection of AK-47 rifles, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to the opposition video  clip.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell. A Times Staff Writer in Beirut contributed.

Photo: In this image taken from video, Syrian rebels are seen during an operation in Aleppo on Friday. Credit: Ugarit News  

 
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