Syria Aleppo siege: Fighting rages as Russian jets strike

Intense fighting has continued around the Syrian city of Aleppo, where a rebel offensive is trying to break a government siege of rebel-held areas.

Over the weekend, the rebels tried to reconnect an encircled area in the east with insurgent territory in the west.

They set off a huge tunnel bomb underneath army positions in the strategic Ramouseh district.

The army has been fighting back with the help of Russian air strikes to stop the rebels breaking through.

Around a quarter of a million civilians are living under siege in rebel-held areas since government forces cut them off last month.

Media captionA resident in the rebel held area of Aleppo says 25-30 people are dying every day
Syrian Opposition gunmen surrender to the Syrian army in Aleppo (02 August 2016)Image copyrightEPA
Image captionPhotographs were released on Tuesday by state media purporting to show opposition gunmen surrendering to the Syrian army in Aleppo
Syrian citizens inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes hit Aleppo (29 July 2016)Image copyrightAP
Image captionMuch of Aleppo has been destroyed in recent fighting

“We are now overlooking the Ramousah area but Russian jets are intensifying their bombing, which is holding us back from moving quickly,” a rebel commander told Reuters news agency.

Another rebel source told Reuters that about 10,000 troops, at least 95 tanks and several hundred rocket launchers had been deployed for what he described as the “great epic battle of Aleppo”.

The source said scores of suicide bombers had also been prepared to drive explosive-laden military vehicles into army posts.

UK-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described the rebel offensive as the largest so far, involving fighting across the divided city’s main battle fronts.

Men walk past burning tyres, which activists said are used to create smoke cover from warplanes, in AleppoImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionTyres have been burnt in parts of Aleppo to deter Russian air strikes
Syrian families evacuated from Aleppo by the Syrian army (02 August 2016)Image copyrightEPA
Image captionThe Syrian army says that it has evacuated families from Aleppo
Syrian families evacuated from Aleppo by the Syrian army in AleppoImage copyrightEPA
Image captionAleppo has become a desperate place for civilians

It said government forces had regained two villages and two hilltops in the south-west suburbs of Aleppo late on Tuesday.

“The regime is launching counter-attacks to absorb the fierce rebel offensive,” observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

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‘No food and daily attacks’ – Aleppo resident tells BBC of fight for survival

“Basic food has completely disappeared. For families who have children, there is no milk in the markets.

“Every day we have at least 20 to 30 attacks by Russian aircraft or by the helicopters.

“There are no cars going around. Public transport has completely stopped because of the lack of fuel. People are staying inside their houses to avoid shelling.”

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The observatory said 50 rebel fighters and jihadists had been killed since the operation began on Sunday, as well as dozens of government soldiers.

It has been reported that barrels suspected to contain chlorine gas were dropped on the town of Saraqeb near Aleppo.

About 30 people, mostly women and children, were reported to have been affected. Chlorine gas can cause victims to become short of breath and to foam blood from the mouth.

It is not clear who was responsible.

The attack took place near to where a Russian military transport helicopter was shot down by rebels hours earlier killing all five personnel on board.

It was the deadliest single incident for Russia’s military since its air campaign began last September.

The Russian government has responded to US criticism over its actions in Syria by arguing that it is “unacceptable” to demand restraint around Aleppo.

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