Syria: After Damascus, heavy fighting in Aleppo
Until recently, Aleppo has remained largely loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and has been spared the kind of daily bloodshed.
Beirut: In some of the fiercest fighting to date in the Syria`s largest city, the country’s troops clashed with rebels in Aleppo for a second day on Saturday.
The violence has pushed residents to flee to safer areas.
Until recently, Aleppo has remained largely loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and has been spared the kind of daily bloodshed that has plagued other cities over the course of the uprising against him.
The fighting in the Salaheddine district in the city centre suggested Assad was losing his grip on one more traditional bastion of support.
"This night was very bad, there were huge explosions and the gunfire didn`t stop for several hours," said Aleppo-based activist Mohammad Saeed via Skype.
He said dozens of fighters from the rag-tag Free Syrian Army entered Aleppo from the countryside and were now fighting regime troops from inside.
The clashes began on Friday and continued throughout the night until Saturday morning, most of it in Salaheddine.
"The uprising has finally reached Aleppo," Saeed said.
This week, fierce fighting between troops and rebels reached the Syrian capital, the central bastion of Assad`s rule, shattering parts of the city and sending thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.
Activists and residents reported a tense calm in Damascus on Saturday but said sporadic gunfire and explosions could be heard throughout the night.
Two residents who did not want to be identified for safety reasons said by telephone that the fighting peaked between 1 am and 3 am local time.
Damascus and Aleppo are both home to elites who have benefited from close ties to Assad`s regime, as well as merchant classes and minority groups who worry their status will suffer if Assad falls.
But for months, rebels have been gaining strength in poorer towns and cities in the Aleppo countryside, gaining footholds near the Turkish border.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday`s fighting in Aleppo forced many residents to flee to safer areas.
An amateur video posted online by activists showed Aleppo residents walking carrying bags of belongings or packing into cars and driving away.
(With Agency inputs)