Martin Chulov reports from Aleppo: The pitched battle for Syria’s oldest city was edging ever closer to its ancient heart on Saturday, with skirmishes flaring near world-renowned landmarks and once impregnable pillars of state control.
Monuments and security buildings stand cheek-by-jowl in Aleppo, a city of huge importance to the Syrian uprising, where a grand, 1,000-year-old citadel stands not far from a much-feared interrogation dungeon. Yesterday jets were bombing the centre of the city, barely a mile away from the citadel.
Rebel groups claim that, after two weeks of bitter fighting, the city of almost 2.5 million people and linchpin of regime authority is almost within their reach.
However, as rebel reinforcements continued to pour in from elsewhere in the country ahead of an expected push early this week, regime troops were also bolstering defences in areas they continue to hold, primarily in the west and centre of the city.
The rebel force of about 6,000 fighters is being countered by a regime force thought to comprise at least double that number as well as large numbers of the loyalist Shabiha militia, many of whom come from Aleppo and have sworn to defend the city.
Rebel forces have advanced from the north-east and were on Saturday trying to dislodge loyalists who were fighting them on the approaches to the Maysaloon district. Capturing this would open access roads to the city centre, where the fighting flared on Saturday.
It would also, potentially, open a way for rebels, who maintain a foothold in the south-west of the city, to link up with the new arrivals. [Continue reading...]