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Syrian rebels launch mass offensive

July 4, 2015

Government forces have clashed with rebels in and around Aleppo in an effort to repel a major front by Islamist fighters. Reports say it's the most intense violence in the area in months.

A damaged mosque where buses are positioned to provide protection from snipers of the forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the old city of Aleppo.
Image: Reuters/A. Ismail

The fresh assault was launched on Friday in response to attacks from a newly-formed 13-member coalition, including al Qaeda's Syrian branch, the Nusra Front and various other rebel fighters. The groups, under the name Ansar al-Sharia, say they are aiming to "liberate" the city of Aleppo, once an important industrial and commercial hub. The violence has divided the city into a rebel-dominated east, and a government-controlled west.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the front had started their advance on Thursday, targeting the government-run neighborhood of Zahra in western Aleppo, which included the air force intelligence headquarters. State television said the army had "foiled attempts to infiltrate Aleppo on several fronts," while the Observatory said at least 35 militants were killed in the clashes, with Syrian troops using airstrikes to push the rebels back.

If Syria's second-largest city were to fall into the hands of rebels, it would be disastrous for President Bashar al-Assad's regime, already struggling to contend with the recent loss of the province of Idlib. In Aleppo's west, Islamist fighters managed to overrun parts of a military research center. The Observatory reported at least 11 rebels were killed, along with an unknown number of Syrian fighters.

More history lost

In the historic southern town of Palmyra, "Islamic State" (IS) reported it had destroyed six archeological pieces that were confiscated from a smuggler. UN agency UNESCO accused the militants of trying to "enslave" the Syrian people by destroying their heritage. "These new destructions of cultural goods of the site of Palmyra reflect the brutality and ignorance of extremist groups and their disregard of local communities and of the Syrian people," said UNESCO's Irina Bokova.

The damage is just another in a series of attacks IS has committed on culturally significant artifacts across the Middle East, having blown up ancient shrines in the city as well ruining statues in the Iraqi town of Mosul. IS captured Palmyra in May this year.

an/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)