BEIRUT: Nearly 50 people were killed Thursday when Syrian rebels attacked one of the largest military barracks in the country, in northern Aleppo, according to the anti-regime Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based group said at least 27 soldiers and pro-regime militiamen were killed and the rebels lost 20, including a commander.
“Rebels, including fighters from the Nusra Front and the Islamic Front, launched an assault today on the barracks in Hanano in Aleppo,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said.
State media, meanwhile, reported the army had “foiled an attempt by terrorist groups to infiltrate the barracks” and killed a number of them.
President Bashar Assad’s regime refers to rebels battling to topple it as “terrorist” groups.
Abdel-Rahman said the barracks is one of the largest in Syria.
“It’s strategically important because it’s on a hill that overlooks parts of northern Aleppo,” Abdel-Rahman added.
Once Syria’s economic hub and its largest city, Aleppo has been divided between regime control in the west and rebel control in the east since shortly after combat began there in mid-2012.
Abdel-Rahman said the attack began when “rebels detonated explosives in tunnels they had dug beneath army positions around the barracks.”
State television also reported the rebels had “detonated explosives in three tunnels around the barracks.”
Anti-regime activists posted videos purporting to show the first detonation, as well as rebel groups as they moved closer to the barracks.
Abdel-Rahman said the barracks overlooked a key supply route for rebels going north into the rest of Aleppo province.
Regime forces have advanced around some of the eastern outskirts of Aleppo city, reopening its international airport to the east.
The air force has also waged a relentless campaign against eastern parts of the city, including dropping explosives-packed “barrel bombs.”
Rebels respond by firing rockets into pro-regime areas. The Observatory said that such rocket attacks killed at least 11 civilians, including two women and a child, Thursday and wounded 40.In the Zahra district in the west of the city, rebels have seized buildings near the Air Force Intelligence headquarters, it said.
Fighting has raged in the area since April 12, with rebels led by the Nusra Front battling to take the key target.
Clashes between regime troops and rebels also raged in areas around the capital, as well as in Deraa, Idlib and Deir al-Zor provinces.
The Observatory said five rebels were killed in fighting around the Deir al-Zor military airport.
In the Damascus suburb of Mliha, two Hezbollah fighters and a rebel were killed in the clashes there, the Observatory said.
Regime troops also sought to push forward with an offensive against besieged neighborhoods of Old Homs, as a rebel and a lieutenant in the National Defense paramilitary group were killed in the clashes, it added.
Syria’s government and opposition groups should resume talks to lift the siege on Homs, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said.
U.N.-Arab League envoy Brahimi said the discussions had been well underway between the government and “a negotiating committee representing the civilians and fighters still trapped in the Old City of Homs as well as the inhabitants of the Waer neighborhood.”
“It is a matter of deep regret that negotiations were brutally stopped and violence is now rife again when a comprehensive agreement seemed close at hand,” Brahimi added in the statement distributed at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
“We urge all the parties to return to the negotiating table and complete the deal which was on the verge of being signed,” he said. “We have reached out to all those who could help put an end to this tragedy.”
The Syrian army launched an assault Tuesday against the rebel-held neighborhoods in Homs and “have achieved key successes” and “killed a number of terrorists,” Syrian television said.
Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, has long been referred to by activists as the “capital of the revolution” because of the huge pro-democracy protests held there when the uprising began in March 2011.
Most of the central city is now under regime control. Rebel-held pockets have been under a siege for nearly two years, leading to dwindling food and medical supplies.
According to rebel groups, around 1,300 people, mainly combatants, are still trapped inside army-besieged neighborhoods, after around 1,400 civilians were evacuated at the beginning of the year.