Middle East

Syria rebels battle army in landmark Aleppo mosque

A Syrian rebel carries a sand bag in the Saif al-Dawla district during clashes with government forces of the northern city of Aleppo on October 9, 2012. Syrian rebels overrun Maaret al-Numan, a strategic Idlib province town on the highway linking Damascus with second city Aleppo, as fighting rages after twin suicide bomb attacks on an air force compound near Damascus. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA

ALEPPO, Syria: Syrian rebels launched an attack on troops in second city Aleppo's landmark Umayyad Mosque on Wednesday sparking clashes inside the 13th century place of worship, a military source told AFP.

An AFP correspondent witnessed the tail end of the fighting, which the military source said lasted some four hours.

"The rebels broke through the wall of the mosque using RPGs and tried to push inside," the source told AFP.

Fighting raged inside and outside the mosque before the troops repulsed the assault, the source added.

The AFP correspondent said troops had retained control of the mosque itself but that rebel snipers were continuing to shoot at army positions around it.

The military source said that the army had been unable to reinforce the mosque because the rebels had launched simultaneous mortar attacks on army positions elsewhere in the Old City from the adjacent rebel-held Bustan al-Basha district.

"The men at those checkpoints were unable to help us defend the mosque as the mortar rounds denied us any freedom of movement," he said.

Elsewhere in Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, two mortar rounds struck in front of the central bank building as it was crowded with early morning customers, killing three people outside, a bank clerk told AFP.

"There were around 150 people in the bank when the first mortar struck, many of them farmers getting their government cheques for produce. The windows shattered and everyone was panicking," said Ahmed, 35, who gave no second name.

"We took the people inside and closed the doors, and right afterwards the second mortar struck directly in front of the bank. It hit a small truck and killed the three people inside," he said.

Aleppo, a city of some 1.7 million people just 50 kilometres from the Turkish border, has been the key battleground of the 19-month conflict since mid-July.





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