BEIRUT

Middle East

Syria rebels move into key Aleppo district

In this Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 photo, rebel fighters retreat for cover as enemy fire targets the rebel position during clashes at the Moaskar front line, one of the battlefields in Karmal Jabl neighborhood, in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras).

ALEPPO: Syrian rebels moved on Thursday into a Kurdish district of Aleppo and clashed with troops as mortar fire killed at least nine people in the strategic area, residents and activists said.

As observers waited to see if Damascus accepts the proposal for a ceasefire during the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, residents in Aleppo's northern Ashrafiyeh district told AFP about 200 rebels had moved in to the area for the first time.

"I saw armed men enter my street with Dushka (heavy machineguns) mounted on their vehicles, where it was written 'Liwa al-Tawhid,'" a 28-year-old resident said, referring to the Free Syrian Army's main unit in the embattled city.

"Snipers have set up in the buildings and 50 armed men, dressed in black and wearing headbands with Islamic slogans, entered a school near me. I heard them tell the residents: 'We are here to spend Eid with you'," he said.

"I am waiting for things to calm down before leaving," he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine civilians were killed and 15 wounded in Ashrafiyeh by five mortars fired "from an unknown source".

Rebels and troops were locked in fighting in the mainly Christian district of Seryan just south of Ashrafiyeh, said residents.

Northern Aleppo's neighbouring Kurdish districts of Ashrafiyeh and Sheikh Maqsud have been controlled by local militia and the move marked the first time either rebel or government forces had moved into the area.

Ashrafiyeh sits on city heights and is a route between the central and northern parts of the country's commercial capital, which has been the theatre of intense fighting between rebels and government troops since mid-July.

In the northeastern province of Raqa, rebels also took control of a military post in a dawn raid, killing three soldiers and seizing arms including a tank, said the Observatory.

Regime forces also bombed rebel bastions northeast of the capital, where three rebels were killed in fighting and three civilians died in shelling.

Fighting erupted in the capital's southern districts of Qadam and Tadamun, where a car bomb killed eight people the day before, as shells rained on the town of Daraya further south.

And in the central province of Homs, three civilians, including three girls, were killed as the army pummeled rebel-held Rastan and the Khaldiyeh district in Homs city, while two civilians were killed in sniper fire and shelling elsewhere in the province, the activists said.

A security official told AFP in early October that the army hoped to eliminate the last pockets of resistance in Homs province to free up troops for battle zones in the north, such as Aleppo.

The watchdog gave an initial toll of 39 people -- 23 civilians, 10 soldiers and six rebels -- killed on Thursday across Syria, where the revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has left more than 35,000 people dead.

 

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