BEIRUT, July 11 – Rebels launched an attack inside Aleppo early on Monday, shelling Syrian government-held areas and clashing with government-allied forces in the center of the divided northwestern city, a monitoring group reported.
Syrian warplanes bombarded rebel-held areas in the city and north of it, days after the government side effectively cut off a road leading to the insurgent-controlled neighborhoods and moved closer to completely encircling them.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels fired more than 300 shells at western, government-held neighbourhoods in response to government advances towards the Castello Road.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, has become one of the main battle grounds of the civil war, now in its sixth year. The Damascus government controls the war-torn country’s major population centres in the west, with the exceptions of Idlib and rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
Kurdish forces control vast areas along the nearby Turkish border, and Daesh holds Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces in the east.
Syrian state media said eight people had been killed in Aleppo and dozens more wounded, and buildings were brought down in the bombardments.
A witness said there were fierce clashes at close range in Aleppo’s historic Old City, close to its citadel.
The al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front said in a statement it had launched an attack in that area, and that it had made advances towards a market in a government-held area.
President Bashar al-Assad’s allies, which include Russia, say they are battling the Nusra Front in Aleppo. Groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) say however that they control the rebel-held part of the city.
A legal adviser to the FSA, Osama Abu Zeid, acknowledged there was an “operation inside the city of Aleppo” but would not immediately comment on it on behalf of those groups. He distanced them from Nusra Front’s statements or actions.
Aleppo has been a focus of intensified fighting since a fragile truce eroded and peace efforts broke down earlier this year. The Syrian army has announced two 72-hour nationwide ceasefires in recent days, the second of which is still in effect, but fighting has continued largely unabated.