Syrian army clashes with rebels around Aleppo

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 27, 2013 at 11:53 am •  Published: February 27, 2013
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BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian warplanes carried out airstrikes on rebels trying to storm a police academy outside Aleppo on Wednesday, activists said, while jihadi fighters battled government troops along a key supply road leading to the southeastern part of the city, activists said.

The latest fighting came as the new U.S. secretary of state said Washington is looking for more concrete ways to help the rebels in their fight to oust President Bashar Assad.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city and former commercial capital, became a key front in the country's civil war after rebels launched an offensive there in July 2012. In months of bloody street fighting, opposition fighters have slowly expanded the turf under their control, although the combat has left much of the city in ruins.

The police academy has recently emerged as a new front in the fight for the city, which is considered a major prize in the conflict. Activists say the government has turned the facility into a military base, using it to shell opposition areas in the countryside as well as rebel-held neighborhoods inside the city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes raged Wednesday around the complex.

"The rebels are still trying to storm the school, but they can't because the regime is carrying out airstrikes and bombarding rebel forces," Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said.

He said at least six rebels were killed Wednesday, bringing the three-day death toll to 37 opposition fighters and more than 50 regime troops.

Another key front in the battle for control of Aleppo is the city's international airport. Rebels have been trying for months to seize the facility, and have made headway in recent weeks, overrunning checkpoints and capturing a military base charged with protecting the airport.

The government is desperate to hold onto the airport, which it has used in the past to fly in supplies to its troops bogged down in the city. However, the fighting has forced the government to close the airport to flights and try to send supplies and reinforcements overland.

Most of those reinforcements, including dozens of vehicles and thousands of troops, are now stuck in the city of Safira, southeast of Aleppo, according to Abdul-Rahman. Fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamic extremist rebel group that the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, have cut the road leading from Safira to the airport, and for weeks have battled troops along the road, preventing them from pushing north to the city to link up with government troops there.

The Observatory reported fierce clashes north of Safira on Wednesday, with both sides shelling each other with mortars and artillery.

The rebels have notched a number of strategic victories in recent weeks that appear to mark a shift in momentum in the nearly 2-year-old conflict, which the U.N. says has killed some 70,000 people. Already in control of much of the countryside in the northeast, the rebels have captured the nation's largest hydroelectric dam, a major oil field and two army bases.

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