Syrian rebels have launched a broad offensive for the city of Aleppo.
BEIRUT — Syrian rebels launched a broad offensive for Aleppo on Friday as the Russian, Syrian, and Iranian foreign ministers vowed to intensify their fight against what they label “terrorism” in the country.
The battlefield allies met in Moscow as the Syrian government is looking to cement its authority over the divided northern city and the contested suburbs of the capital, Damascus.
Fighting for Aleppo appeared to have calmed by the afternoon after rebels assaulted the city’s government-controlled western side with three vehicle bombs and at least 150 rockets in the morning. The Syrian military said the rockets were Russian-made Grad missiles.
At least 15 civilians were killed in the volley, according to pro-government TV stations. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also said that 15 civilians were killed, and more than 100 injured.
A reporter inside the city for the Lebanon-based AlMayadeen TV channel had reported attacks on “all sides” of the city, “from the furthest points north to the furthest south.”
Sounds of heavy gunfire, mortar fire, and explosions were heard in the background of his broadcast, as smoke was seen rising above the city on the overcast morning. Presumed government or Russian jets were also heard overhead.
An afternoon broadcast from the city on Lebanonbased Al-Manar TV depicted a quieter scene, though sporadic gunfire and missile attacks were heard in the background.
Rebels said they seized a factory and pushed into gov- ernment-held neighborhoods in southwestern Aleppo, but the Syrian military said it had repelled the offensive from all fronts, with support from allied militias.
“The Syrian army and its allies are in control on the ground and armed groups were not able to change the map,” the military statement said. “Fighting is still ongoing but the intensity has dropped.”
This is the second attempt by rebels to break the government’s siege of Aleppo’s opposition-held eastern districts, where the U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped. U.N. Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura has estimated 8,000 of them are rebel fighters, and no more than 900 of them affiliated with the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham Front.
The area has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.
Rebels opened a corridor to the east for the month of August after pro-government forces first applied a blockade in July, but they were not able to hold it as the government and its Russian ally pounded the gap with artillery and airstrikes. Progovernment forces reapplied the siege in early September.
The setback caused the rebels to pursue a different tack, and they are trying to drawgovernment forces into street fighting in the denselyinhabited western part of the city, according to rebel spokesman Ammar Sakkar. They are hoping this will dissuade the government and Russian air force from using heavy weapons and aerial munitions.
“We want to force the regime into street battles, in addition to opening several fronts,” Sakkar said. “It may go beyond lifting the siege to liberating the whole city.”
Friday’s attack began with rebels detonating three vehicle-borne explosives against government positions to the city’s southwest and attacking with hundreds of rockets, the Observatory said. It said at least one of the vehicles was driven by a suicide bomber for Fatah al-Sham, which also announced the offensive.
Fatah al-Sham claimed credit for two car bombs, saying in a statement that a “martyrdom-seeking fighter” drove a tank laden with explosives and parked it, before it was detonated and the fighter “returned to his brothers.”
Rebel fighters prepare to fire a mortar during a major assault on Syrian forces west of Aleppo on Friday.