The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared victory on Sunday in a hard-fought battle for Syria's capital Damascus, and pounded rebels who control parts of its largest city Aleppo, Reuters reported.
Assad's forces have struggled as never before to maintain their grip on the country over the past two weeks after a major rebel advance into the two largest cities and an explosion that killed four top security officials.
Government forces have succeeded in reimposing their grip on the capital after a punishing battle, but rebels are still in control of sections of Aleppo, clashing with reinforced army troops for several days.
“Today I tell you, Syria is stronger... In less than a week they were defeated (in Damascus) and the battle failed,” Foreign Minister Walid Moualem was quoted by Reuters as having said on a visit to Iran. “So they moved on to Aleppo and I assure you, their plots will fail.”
Rebel fighters were clearly in control of parts of Aleppo, the report said, with neighborhoods dotted with Free Syrian Army checkpoints flying black and white Islamist banners.
Helicopter gunships hovered over the city shortly after dawn and the thud of artillery boomed across neighborhoods.
Rebel fighters, patrolling opposition districts in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black "independence" flags, said they were holding off Assad's forces in the south-western Aleppo district of Salaheddine, where clashes have gone on for days.
Opposition activists also reported fighting in other rebel-held districts of Aleppo.
Meanwhile, UN Undersecretary-General for humanitarian affairs Valerie Amos said that 200,000 people had fled the fighting in and around Aleppo in the last two days, and the violence across Syria made it hard for humanitarian agencies reach them.
“Many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer areas,” she was quoted by Reuters as having said. “They urgently need food, mattresses and blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water.”
Late on Sunday Syrian state television said soldiers were repelling “terrorists” in Salaheddine and had captured several of their leaders.
“Complete control of Salaheddine has been (won back) from those mercenary gunmen,” an unidentified military officer was quoted as having told the television news, saying the gunmen included fighters from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Turkey and Yemen. “In a few days safety and security will return to the city of Aleppo.”