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Rebels launch Aleppo counter-offensive with exploding tanks, missiles

The Russian military has requested President Vladimir Putin's permission to resume air strikes amid militant activity
Rebel fighter rides on a tank in northern Aleppo province earlier this week (Reuters)

Syrian rebels set off a car bomb and detonated explosives inside a tank on Friday morning as part of a fresh offensive to break a siege on the divided city of Aleppo.

The Russian military has requested permission from President Vladimir Putin to resume air strikes on the city after a 10-day hiatus, citing an uptick in militant activity and a number of civilian deaths.

Aleppo, Syria's most populous city before the war, has for years been split between a government-held western sector and the rebel-held east, which the Syrian army and its allies put under siege this summer.

Rebels including the Fateh al-Sham Front, the rebranded al-Nusra Front, launched Grad rockets at the government-controlled Nairab air base on Friday morning, aiming to break the government siege of rebel-held areas of the city.

Rockets fired by rebels killed at least 15 civilians in government-held areas of the city on Friday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

Sources on the ground told MEE that there were “furious” clashes on the ground, as districts that were once far from the fighting now find themselves on the front lines.

Residents said on Thursday that street fighting was so close to their homes that they could hear rebels trading insults with their foes.

Residents of eastern Aleppo, home to more than 250,000 people and under siege for over three months, burned tyres in the streets, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air to provide cover for rebel operations, an AFP correspondent said.

The start of the rebel assault was hailed by loudspeakers in eastern Aleppo mosques on Friday morning.

"There is a general call-up for anyone who can bear arms," a senior official in the Levant Front rebel group, which fights under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner, told Reuters. "The preparatory shelling started this morning," he added.

Zakaria Malahifji, an official with the Fastaqim rebel group in Aleppo, said numerous factions would participate in the new offensive and that the bombardment of the air base was part of this.

"Today is supposed to be the launch of the battle," Malahifji said. "All the rebel groups will participate."

A spokesperson for Fateh al-Sham said the group had detonated a suicide car bomb at an eastern entrance to the city, with rebels also detonating explosives inside a tank in the Aleppo suburb of al-Assad.

The twin suicide blasts came after rebels from the Ahrar al-Sham group earlier detonated two car bombs in the city.

SOHR, a British-based monitoring group, said that Grad surface-to-surface rockets had also struck Nairab air base and locations around the Hmeimim air base, near Latakia.

Syria's civil war, now in its sixth year, pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and militias from Lebanon, against mostly Sunni rebels including groups supported by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the United States.

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