Fresh fighting shook Aleppo on Saturday as rebels battled to break a siege of the city by the Syrian regime, accused by Washington of using starvation as a weapon of war. Opposition fighters unleashed a barrage of rockets on the government-held western side of the divided city on Friday as they announced a major offensive aimed at reopening vital supply lines. “In just a few days, we will open the way for our besieged brothers,” rebel commander Abu Mustafa told media.
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The rebel fire has killed at least 21 civilians, including two children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “Fighting continues on the western outskirts of Aleppo, where rebels have been making advances,” the British-based monitoring group, which has a network of sources on the ground, said on Saturday.
More than 1,500 fighters from the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib to the west were attacking government-controlled districts of the city along a front stretching for 15 kilometres (nine miles), it said.
The Observatory reported Russian air raids on Aleppo’s western front lines but said that a halt to Moscow’s aerial bombing of the rebel-held east of the city was holding.
Fierce fighting, shelling and car bombs killed at least 18 regime forces and allied fighters on Friday, according to Observatory, which was unable to provide a toll for the rebels.
More than 250,000 people live under government siege in the eastern half of Aleppo, which the army began an operation to retake several weeks ago.
Syria’s second city, Aleppo has been devastated by some of the heaviest fighting of the five-year civil war that began with anti-government protests and has since killed more than 300,000 people.
Much of the once-bustling economic hub has been reduced to rubble by air and artillery bombardment, including barrel bombs – crude unguided explosive devices that cause indiscriminate damage.
Last week, Russia implemented a three-day “humanitarian truce” intended to allow civilians and surrendering rebels to leave the east.
But few did so, and a UN plan to evacuate the wounded failed because security could not be guaranteed. Russia, whose intervention in September 2015 with air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces was seen as a game-changer, says it has not bombed Aleppo since October 18.