Syrian army, Russia launch offensive in Aleppo
Before the Syrian army started the ground offensive, Russian airstrikes targeted the area. (Al Bawaba/File)
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Backed by a Russian airpower, Syrian government troops on Friday pushed ahead with a massive attack against rebels in the centre and north of the war-torn country, activists and state media reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that government troops, backed by fighters from the allied Lebanese Hezbollah movement and military experts from Iran, were attacking the rebel-controlled areas in the southern part of Aleppo.
After receiving military reinforcements, the Islamist rebels recaptured some bases on the outskirts of the village of al-Sabikya, which they had earlier lost to regime forces, according to the Britain-based Observatory that relies on a network of activists.
Ousama Abu Zeid, a military adviser to the West-backed opposition Free Syrian Army, told dpa that the rebels repulsed attacks by government forces in southern Aleppo.
A Syrian military source told the official Syrian News Agency SANA that the army had started a major military operation in the southern side of Aleppo.
"The army managed to advance into Abteen and western Hadadine," the source said, referring to two towns located about 15 kilometers south of Aleppo city, the capital of the province of the same name.
Activists in the area said that the southern region of the province had been heavily bombarded by Russian jets before the offensive started on the ground.
Aleppo, Syria's second biggest city, has been split between rebel control in the east and regime control in the west since shortly after fighting began there in mid-2012.
Earlier on Friday, the Observatory said that at least 60 people, including 30 children and women, were killed in Russian and Syrian airstrikes on rebel-held areas in the central province of Homs.
The overnight strikes were part of a major attack launched on Thursday by troops of President Bashar al-Assad, with Russian air support, against Islamist rebels on the northern outskirts of Homs.
Russia, an ally of al-Assad, has denied reports about civilian casualties resulting from its air campaign that started in Syria on September 30.
Moscow says its airstrikes are aimed at weakening the Islamic State extremist militia, which rules large parts of war-torn Syria.
Syrian Television reported that the ground attack by government troops was continuing Friday in the north and north west of Homs, mainly in the villages of Talibsseh and Khalidiyeh, which the broadcaster called "main hideouts of the terrorist groups" - a term referring to rebel fighters.
The broadcaster gave no further details.
The attack is aimed at securing a main highway linking Homs to neighbouring Hama, according to observers.
Rebels control an approximately 50-kilometer-wide swathe of territory north of Homs known as the "Rastan pocket."
Activists in central Syria posted online videos showing what they said were heavy air raids on areas in northern Homs.
Rebels claimed they had killed the regime commander of the assault on Homs, Brigadier Maan Abu Deeb, during fighting in the area.
Their claim could not be independently verified.
In an updated death toll, the Observatory said that more than 250,000 have been killed in Syria's conflict that started with peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.
The monitoring group said it had documented 250,124 deaths, including 74,426 civilians, among them 12,517 children and 8,062 women.
More than half Syria's pre-war population of 22.4 million has been internally displaced or fled abroad due to the strife, according to the United Nations.