BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria’s army and allies clashed on Friday in the south of Aleppo with rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, a military source, rebels and a monitor said, part of a pro-government offensive to retake Syria’s once largest city.
The fighting was concentrated in Sheikh Saeed, a rebel-held district of the city next to Ramousah, where the most intense battles earlier this summer took place, but there were conflicting accounts of whether the army made any gains.
Air strikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo by the Syrian military and Russian jets remained significantly lighter than during the previous two weeks following an army announcement on Wednesday that it would lessen its bombardment.
“Today there’s no bombardment on the neighborhoods in the city, until now. We don’t know what will happen in an hour,” said Ammar al-Selmo, head of the civil defence rescue organisation in Aleppo.
A Syrian military source said on Friday morning that the army had captured several important positions on Sheikh Saeed’s hilltop, but rebels said later that all those gains had been reversed and that insurgents still held the area.
Since the start of an offensive two weeks ago, following the collapse of a short ceasefire, the army and its allies have made some progress in northern and central districts of rebel-held eastern Aleppo, home to more than 250,000 people.
They have captured the Handarat refugee camp and part of an industrial district next to it on eastern Aleppo’s northern outskirts, part of the Bustan al-Basha district just north of the city centre and some ground in the central Old City.
However, to completely storm eastern Aleppo could take months and would involve the destruction of the city and great loss of life, the United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Thursday.
Assad has offered fighters and their families an amnesty to leave eastern Aleppo under guarantee of safe passage to other parts of Syria held by the insurgents.
However, rebels have told Reuters they do not trust Assad, and have said they believe such an agreement would be aimed at purging Sunni Muslims from eastern Aleppo.
Rebel shelling on government-held western Aleppo killed 11 people on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor said on Friday.
Reporting By Angus McDowall; editing by Jeremy Gaunt