BEIRUT Syrian rebels said on Friday they had stormed an artillery base in the northern city of Aleppo in an assault to try to end the siege of opposition-held areas but the army said it had repelled the attack and killed hundreds of insurgents.
A quarter of a million civilians still live in Aleppo's opposition-controlled eastern neighbourhoods, effectively under siege since the army, aided by Iranian-backed militias, cut off the last road into rebel districts in early July.
Fighters from a coalition of Islamist rebel groups called "Jaish al Fateh" that includes Jabhat Fateh al Sham, the former al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, Ahrar al Sham and other smaller groups, said they took part of the main fortress-like artillery academy in the Ramousah quarter in the southwest of Aleppo.
The artillery base, one of the largest in Syria, is almost 2 km from the besieged opposition area.
The rebels are trying to break through a strip of government-controlled territory to reconnect their encircled sector of eastern Aleppo with a swathe of insurgent territory in the west of Syria, effectively breaking the siege.[L8N1AI1OV]
"There are two suicide bombers who have driven into regime posts inside the artillery base," said Abu al-Walid, a fighter with Ahrar al Sham, who said fighting was going on inside the base.
The army said it had foiled the attack on the artillery base and two major barracks and that hundreds of insurgents had been killed and much of their equipment and tanks destroyed. The army said it was the biggest assault by rebels against government-held areas in the last year.
A state television reporter said the army had foiled several suicide attacks by Islamist insurgents who approached the academy in Ramousah.
Rebels said jets flying at high altitude, believed to be Russian, intensified their strikes on the area but were unable to hold back rebel advances because of the terrain.
Aleppo, Syria's biggest city before the outbreak of the conflict five years ago, has been divided between government forces and rebels since the summer of 2012.
Seizing full control would be the biggest victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in five years of fighting and demonstrate the dramatic shift of fortunes in his favour since Russia joined the war on his side last year.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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First Published On : Aug 6, 2016 01:46 IST