BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces launched a counteroffensive Saturday under the cover of airstrikes in an attempt to regain control of areas they had lost to insurgents the day before in the northern city of Aleppo, activists and state media said.
Meanwhile, insurgents launched a fresh offensive on the city, a day after embarking on a broad ground attack aimed at breaking a weeks-long government siege on the eastern rebel-held neighborhoods of Syria's largest city.
The insurgents were able to capture much of the western neighborhood of Assad where much of Saturday's fighting was concentrated, according to the Syrian army and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory said the new offensive by Syrian troops and their allies went under the cover of Russian and Syrian airstrikes but government forces did not succeed in regaining control of areas they lost. The group said the fighting and airstrikes are mostly on Aleppo's western and southern edges.
The Syrian army command said troops and their allies are pounding insurgent positions with artillery shells and rockets adding that "all kinds of weapons" are being used in the fighting in the Assad neighborhood.
The Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, reported airstrikes and artillery shelling of areas near Aleppo. The AMC and another activist collective, the Local Coordination Committees, said rebels entered the village of Minian west of Aleppo Saturday afternoon after intense fighting with government forces.
Later Saturday, the rebels said they launched an attack on the Zahraa neighborhood in western Aleppo to try and capture it from government forces. The attack began with a massive explosion that struck government positions on the front line, said Yasser al-Yousef of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group, a main faction in Aleppo.
A reporter inside the city for the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel confirmed that the rebels have attacked the Zahraa neighborhood. As he spoke from the roof of a building, sounds of heavy exchange of gunfire could be heard in the background.
The Syrian army said troops were repelling the attack on Zahraa. It said the offensive began when the insurgents detonated a vehicle and shelled the area.
The Observatory said the fighting was continuing intensely after sunset, saying that government forces detonated explosives and bombs they planted earlier in the area in an attempt to repel the offensive on Zahraa.
Syrian state media said rebels shelled government-held western neighborhoods of Aleppo on Saturday morning wounding at least 10 people, including a young girl.
Rebel shelling of Aleppo on Friday killed 15 and wounded more than 100.
On Friday, insurgents including members of Fatah al-Sham and the ultraconservative Ajnad al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham militias took advantage of cloudy and rainy weather to attack government positions. On Saturday the weather was better, according to residents.
"There are ongoing clashes," said opposition activist Baraa al-Halaby by telephone from besieged east Aleppo, adding that the fighting is far from them but explosions could be clearly heard in the city.
The Observatory said that since Friday some 30 troops and members of Lebanon's Hezbollah group were killed in the Aleppo fighting.
East Aleppo has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.
The new offensive by insurgents is the second attempt to break the government's siege of Aleppo's opposition-held eastern districts, where the U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped.
U.N. Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura has estimated 8,000 of them are rebel fighters, and no more than 900 of them affiliated with Fatah al-Sham. Syrian and Russian officials have said that no cease fire is possible as long as Fatah al-Sham remains allied and intertwined with other rebel forces.
Aleppo is the current focal point of the war. President Bashar Assad has said he is determined to retake the country's largest city and former commercial capital.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.