Beirut: Fierce clashes have erupted between rebels and pro-government forces around Syria's largest city, Aleppo, despite a proclamation from the Syrian military that it would extend its own ceasefire through tomorrow.
The military had declared a nationwide ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday on July 6, expiring July 8 at midnight, but it had little impact on the ground, as pro-government forces choked off the last supply route to opposition areas in the contested city of Aleppo on July 7.
Last evening, rebels launched a counteroffensive, leading with two car bombs to open the vital Castello road to eastern Aleppo, according to activists.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, which gathers information from a network of informants across the war-torn country, said the cars were driven by two suicide bombers from al-Qaida's Syria affiliate, the Nusra Front, which fights alongside rebel groups against government forces.
Syrian journalist Ahmad Primo said one of the car bombs was driven by a militant from Ahrar al-Sham, another ultraconservative jihadist group fighting the government.
Rebels then launched a ground offensive on the government's newly acquired positions overlooking the supply route, according to the social media accounts for the Aleppo Conquest Operations Room and Levant Front, two rebel coalitions. Fighting for the Mallah farms continued into the night.
Two Russian airman, meanwhile, were killed in the country's central Homs province when their helicopter was shot down by Islamic State fighters, according to Russia's Defence Ministry. The Russian-Syrian government military alliance has had trouble securing the country's desert interior after forcing the extremist group out of the ancient city of Palmyra in March. IS militants promptly seized the nearby Shaer natural gas fields after that, and threatened to advance on Palmyra once again.
A Defence Ministry statement yesterday reported by the state news agency Tass said the incident occurred Friday east of Palmyra.
According to the statement, the two Russians were making a test flight in the Homs region with a Syrian Mi-25 helicopter that was carrying ammunition. It said IS fighters broke through Syrian forces' lines east of Palmyra at the same time.
The statement said the Syrians requested the crew help strike the IS fighters and the helicopter was shot down after the crew exhausted the aircraft's ammunition and were leaving the scene.