Syria Rebels Fend Off Aleppo Assaultإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Syrian rebels staved off a fightback by regime forces in Aleppo on Saturday amid growing concern about the risks of reprisals against civilians in the country's commercial capital.
After massing for two days, troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships moved on southwestern Aleppo where rebels concentrated their forces when they seized much of the northern city on July 20.
At least 29 people were killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, contributing to a figure of around 140 nationwide.
The watchdog said more than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have now died since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime erupted in March 2011.
"It started at 4:00 am (1:00 GMT) and eight hours later it's still hell. This is madness," an Agence France Presse correspondent reported from the Aleppo district of Salaheddin.
Civilians crowded into basements seeking refuge from the bombing, with the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman describing the clashes as the uprising's "fiercest."
"There are thousands of people in the streets fleeing the bombardment. They're being terrorized by helicopter gunships flying at low altitude," said an activist, adding many had taken refuge in public parks.
Official news agency SANA reported fighting in Furqan district where "a terrorist group was terrorizing residents."
It said two "terrorists" had been killed and three others captured, and their arms and vehicles seized.
Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi of the rebel Free Syrian Army said his forces had repulsed troops in Salaheddin and that the regime offensive had been stopped.
"We managed to force the army to the neighborhood of Hamdaniyeh," he told AFP on the phone, adding that while the army had been halted on the ground, artillery and gunships continued to pound the city.
Abdel Rahman said the fact the soldiers had been stopped in Salaheddin "does not necessarily mean a withdrawal as their strategy is to bombard ... to cause an exodus then launch an assault even more fierce."
An AFP correspondent said rebels were poised to launch a final raid on a strategic police post in the city center, where 100 men armed with Kalashnikovs have been holding out for three days.
Its capture would open a corridor between Salaheddin and the rebel-held district of Sakhur, some six kilometers to the northeast.