Rebels launch attack to break Syrian army siege on east Aleppo

Rebel fighters launched a new offensive in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, unleashing a series of deadly auto bombings and mortar attacks on government-held positions aimed at breaking the siege of rebel-controlled eastern neighborhoods.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said Friday's attack by rebels on regime forces were targeting south-western parts of Aleppo.

The Islamic Front rebel coalition announced on Twitter Friday morning that the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group targeted a military airport to the east of the city with Grad rockets and destroyed a government position to the west of the city.

Rebel groups are seeking to break a government siege of east Aleppo that began in July and has led to food and medical shortages.

Russia's military has since stopped bombing east Aleppo, and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday refused commanders' request to resume the strikes due to increased militant activity.

The attacks so far were coming from rebels outside Aleppo, but it is understood rebels inside the city will join the offensive.

The rocket fire was accompanied by fierce clashes on the outskirts of the government-controlled west of Aleppo, with two suicide vehicle bombings targeting a checkpoint in the Dahiyet al-Assad neighbourhood, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Rockets struck close to the Hmeimim military airport, as well as near President Bashar al-Assad's ancestral village Qardaha, the monitor said.

Abdel Rahman said the operation involved a range of rebel groups, including the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and former al-Qaida affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, previously known as Al-Nusra Front.

A tank for rebel fighters drives in Dahiyat al-Assad west Aleppo city, Syria October 28, 2016.

But a Syrian military source said earlier that the army and its allies had thwarted what he called "an extensive attack" on south and west Aleppo.

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Ammar Sakkar, military spokesperson for Fastaqim Union rebel group in Aleppo, said hundreds of fighters were taking part in the offensive.

He said residents burned tyres, sending smoke over the city to provide cover against air attack. The Syrian government is supported by Lebanese, Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan Shia militias, as well as Russian air power - soon to be bolstered by a naval fleet in the Mediterranean.

The powerful role played by Jabhat Fateh Al Sham, listed by many countries as a terrorist group, has complicated Western policy towards supporting the anti-Assad opposition.

The city has been divided since mid-2012, and the eastern rebel-held neighbourhoods have been under regime siege near-continuously since July 17.

The assault, backed by Russian forces, has killed hundreds of civilians and destroyed infrastructure including hospitals, prompting worldwide outrage.

Rebels also shelled areas near the Hmeimim air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, which is a launch pad for Russian airstrikes against rebels, the Observatory added.

The UN's aid chief Stephen O'Brien this week said Aleppo had become "a kill zone", adding that "nothing is actually happening to stop the war, stop the suffering".

"We have introduced a humanitarian truce, but the civilians were not able to use it", Muallem told journalists after a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

But few left, and a United Nations plan to evacuate the wounded failed because security could not be guaranteed.

State media reported that five civilians were killed.

  • Sonia Alvarado