BEIRUT • Syrian regime forces were on the defensive around Aleppo yesterday after a rebel alliance said it had inflicted a major setback by breaking a three-week government siege of the battered city.
A coalition of rebels and militants surged through regime territory to open a new route into Aleppo's besieged eastern neighbourhoods, home to about 250,000 people.
The breakthrough was met with euphoric scenes among civilians and opposition fighters in the eastern districts, but sparked fear of food shortages among residents of regime-controlled western areas.
Mr Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the development was one of the most significant setbacks for government forces since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
"Despite more than 600 Russian strikes, the regime forces were not able to hold on to their positions," he said.
REGIME FORCES BEATEN
Despite more than 600 Russian strikes, the regime forces were not able to hold on to their positions.
MR RAMI ABDEL RAHMAN, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on the rebel advance.
Steadfast regime ally Moscow has been providing air support for forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.
Mr Abdel Rahman said there were intermittent air strikes and clashes on the southern edges of the city, where the opposition alliance had overrun a series of buildings in a military academy on Saturday evening.
They then pushed north-east into the district of Ramussa, linking up with rebel groups that had fought south from inside the city.
Rebels posted footage of their fighters embracing and celebrating the end of the government encirclement, which had been in place since July 17.
The fight for Aleppo is among the fiercest so far in Syria's chaotic multi-front war, which has killed more than 280,000 people.
Rebel and regime forces have fought to control the provincial capital since mid-2012, transforming the former economic powerhouse into a divided, bombed-out city.
State media denied that the siege had been broken and said the battle for Syria's second city was ongoing.
State television said the Syrian air force was carrying out strikes around the military academy buildings seized by opposition forces.
"The terrorist groups are suffering huge losses and were not able to break the encirclement of the eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo," the state news agency Sana said late on Saturday, quoting a military source.
The British-based Observatory said at least 130 civilians have been killed since the opposition alliance launched its offensive on southern Aleppo on July 31.