by Hummam Sheikh Ali
DAMASCUS, (Xinhua) — Intense battles raged on in Syria‘s northern city of Aleppo, as rebels launched their “second stage” of attacks against government posts on Thursday, a military source told Xinhua.
Government troops and allied forces confronted the rebel attacks in the suburbs of Menyan and Dahyeit al-Assad in western Aleppo, the source said on condition of anonymity.
The battles were “very violent” and the attackers suffered substantial losses, the source said.
Syrian forces destroyed two explosive-laden vehicles belonging to the rebels near Menyan in western Aleppo, the source said, adding that the rebels “randomly fired rocket and mortar shells on residential areas in western Aleppo.”
State news agency SANA said at least two people were killed on Thursday by the shelling.
The source said rebels attempted but failed to break through into Dahyeit al-Assad toward a military academy in that area.
One reporter with the Iranian al-Alam TV was injured when shrapnel from rebel shelling hit him in the leg in the Menyan area, according to the source.
Also on Thursday, the rebel Jaish al-Fateh group, or the “Army of Conquest,” announced the start of the “second stage” of its offensive to break government siege on the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo.
“The second stage of the battle for breaking the siege of Aleppo has started with intense shelling by all kinds of weapons on the positions of Assad militias in western Aleppo,” the group said in a statement, referring to troops under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The rebel offensive to break the siege started last Friday.
The Syrian army said the first wave of rebel attacks killed at least 84 civilians and wounded 280 others.
The high number of causalities was caused by the rebels who fired over a hundred mortar shells, 50 Grad missiles, and 20 explosive-laden cylinders in government-controlled areas in western Aleppo, the army said in a statement.
The statement also accused the rebels of using chemical agents in the first stage of attack on Aleppo earlier this week, saying 48 people suffered from suffocation and breathing difficulties in Dahyeit al-Assad.
The rebels managed to infiltrate some areas in the first wave of attacks but failed to achieve any breakthrough.
Government troops responded with a major counter-offensive, managing to strip the rebels of some of the areas they had taken in western Aleppo.
On Wednesday, sources said the intensity of battles in Aleppo decreased, before flaring up again on Thursday with the declaration of the second stage of the battles by Jaish al-Fateh, one of 12 rebel groups involved in the Aleppo offensive, dubbed by the rebels as “Aleppo’s Greater Epic.”
The new wave of attacks comes a day after the Syrian army and Russia announced a unilateral “humanitarian pause” which would go into effect for 10 hours on Friday, to give civilians and rebels a chance to leave rebel-held areas in eastern Aleppo.
The statement said rebels can leave Aleppo through the Castello road in the north, in addition to the Souk al-Khair crossing, toward rebel-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Civilians can also leave through six passages the Syrian army previously designated, into government-controlled areas in western Aleppo.However, the fresh offensive casts doubt on prospects for achieving a brief truce on Friday.
The latest offer of cessation of hostilities is not the first to be announced by the Syrian army.
Last month, a three-day truce, unilaterally announced by Russia and the Syrian government, failed to achieve its intended goal of giving civilians a pause to leave rebel-held areas and also failed to push rebels to leave Aleppo.
The government accused the rebels of forcefully preventing the departure of civilians from eastern Aleppo.
On Wednesday, SANA said rebels in eastern Aleppo killed dozens of people who wanted to leave rebel-held areas.
It added that Jaish al-Fateh rebels are extorting civilians who want to leave Aleppo, asking them for money in exchange for permission to leave.
Huge sums of money are being requested from civilians who wish to leave, SANA said, noting that rebels demanded 300 U.S. dollars each for civilians under 14 and over 55 to leave.
SANA said its report was based on a leaked Jaish al-Fateh statement detailing the “extortion” process.
It added that the group admitted they would use the money collected from people to purchase weapons and munitions.
The Syrian army has laid siege on rebel-held areas in Aleppo in recent months, urging the rebels to surrender or leave eastern Aleppo to other rebel-held areas in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Observers believe Aleppo will be the decisive battleground among the fighting groups, and the winner will dictate the conditions for a resolution to the crisis.
Aleppo contains all the groups supported by regional and international powers, with civilians paying the price for this proxy war.