Activists reported renewed bombardments of rebel-held neighbourhoods and clashes in many parts of Aleppo as the army pushed on with its offensive to retake the key northern city.
The battle for Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub with about 3 million inhabitants, has now lasted longer than the rebel assault on the capital Damascus that regime troops crushed earlier in July.
Despite regime claims of success and repeated forays by tanks and ground forces into rebel-controlled areas in the north-east and south-west of the city, the rebels appear to have held their ground, prompting government forces to resort to more shelling by artillery and mortars. Rebel positions are also being attacked with helicopter gunships.
Even as the fighting raged inside the city, rebel forces reported a number of victories in the surrounding countryside, including the town of al-Bab and a key army checkpoint at Anand. The capture of the checkpoint will ease the movement of fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, 30 miles away.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebel bastion of Sakhour in the north-east of Aleppo was being shelled and that clashes had broken out between rebels and government forces elsewhere in the city, especially in Salaheddine in the south-west.
The Syrian government has defended its assault on Aleppo to the UN, describing a city in the grip of “terrorist mercenaries” funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, that are holding people hostage as human shields and committing “horrifying crimes.”
Saudi Arabi and Qatar have both expressed a willingness to fund the rebellion and are believed to be sending money to rebels to purchase weapons.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed deep concern over the use of heavy weapons by the government in suppressing the rebellion, especially around Aleppo, calling on both sides to adhere to a ceasefire and the international organisation’s widely ignored peace plan.
On Sunday the UN mission monitoring the never-observed ceasefire was shot at.
More than 2 million people have been affected by the fighting in a country of 22 million, said Mr Ban, adding that “more fighting is not the answer.”
The UN has estimated that 200,000 people have fled the fighting from Aleppo alone, either taking shelter in nearby villages or making the trek to the refugee camps across the border in Turkey.