Fierce fighting rocks Syria's Aleppo: Rights group
BEIRUT (AFP) - Fierce fighting rocked the heart of Syria's commercial capital Aleppo early on Tuesday as troops shelled rebel-held districts in the east of the key battleground city, a human rights group said.
The clashes came after at least 226 people were killed in violence nationwide on Monday, 147 of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Rebel fighters fought with troops in the Bab Antakya, Aziziyeh, Bab Janin and Sabaa Bahrat areas of the city centre and near the Palace of Justice in the west, the Britain-based watchdog said.
The army also bombarded the Shaar, Sakhur and Qatarji districts in the east, it added.
Opposition activists of the Syrian Revolution General Commission said the army also used helicopter gunships to strafe the Hanano district of east Aleppo.
Fighting in the city of some 2.7 million people killed 46 people on Monday, the majority of them civilians, the Observatory said.
A senior security official said on Sunday that the army had completed its deployment of reinforcements to Aleppo, building up a force of some 20,000 soldiers, ready for a decisive showdown in the city which has been the scene of fierce fighting since July 20.
Pro-government daily Al-Watan said that the "terrorists", who claim to control around half of the city, have between 6,000 and 8,000 fighters.
AFP correspondents on the ground said that despite the fierce clashes in some neighbourhoods of the city, the army seemed to be biding its time before launching an all-out ground assault.
The head of the United Nations (UN) observer mission in Syria, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, issued an appeal on behalf of civilians on Monday, amid fears of a looming bloodbath.
"I urge the parties to protect civilians and respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. Civilians must not be subjected to shelling and use of heavy weapons," he said.
Approximately 20 unarmed UN observers were moved out of Aleppo back to the mission's Damascus headquarters at the weekend because of worsening security, a UN spokesman said.
Nationwide, 22 rebel fighters and 57 security force personnel were also among Monday's dead, the Observatory said.