BEIRUT: Fierce fighting erupted in the Aleppo district of Bustan al-Basha on Monday as troops advanced for the first time into the stronghold of Islamist militants, a military source and resident told AFP.
The Syrian troop advance came on the fourth day of fighting in the northern district, which has been controlled for months by rebels from the jihadist battalions of Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham.
"The army has virtually taken control of the main avenue of Bustan al-Basha and clashes are breaking out in the surrounding streets, where fighters from Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham are holed up in homes and shops," a military source in the northern city told AFP, reached by telephone.
"The army advanced from Midan (centre), which is under their control, along the main street of Bustan al-Basha, and up to the Zahi Hospital in Halak district," said a Halak resident, who would only be identified as Ibrahim.
The university student, 26, said by telephone that the army was holding only the main street of Bustan al-Basha and that battles were raging in the adjoining streets.
"Most of the residents left the area months ago after the shelling got worse. There are only a few civilians left in Bustan al-Basha," he added.
Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham are among dozens of groups fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad in an uprising which has left more than 41,000 people dead since March last year, according Syrian Observatory for Human Rights figures.
The past six months of the conflict have been marked by a growing Islamisation of the opposition, with an increased number of hardline jihadist battalions fighting alongside more secular-minded Free Syrian Army fighters.