Fighting raged in the Salaheddin district of Syria's commercial capital Aleppo on Wednesday as the army launched a fierce assault against rebels in the southwestern neighbourhood of the city.
The army said it reclaimed the embattled district by Monday afternoon, but rebel forces said the fighting was continuing.
“Fighting is still raging in the district of Salaheddin... and there are initial reports of many dead,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “It is impossible to document the casualties because of the ferocity of the clashes.”
The Observatory's statement came amid conflicting reports over how much of the neighbourhood was still under rebel control.
“At one o'clock (1000 GMT), the army controlled three quarters of the district, but it is falling very quickly,” a security source in Damascus told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The assault began at 4:00 am (0100 GMT), the source said, adding that the worst fighting was focused on two main streets in the district.
“Once those streets were conquered, all of the terrorists' defence system collapsed, faster than we thought,” he said.
“The objective is to take control of Saif al-Dawla to the west, and then afterwards to focus on the eight (rebel-held) districts to the east, but this may take some time.”
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the army assault destroyed two schools the rebels had been using as bases.
Earlier on Wednesday, Syria's state agency said regime forces had taken “full control of the district of Salaheddin.”
Dozens of rebels were captured, including foreigners, and others had surrendered, SANA said, adding that troops also seized a large number of arms “used by the terrorists to terrify the inhabitants and to murder members of the government forces.”
State television said the “armed forces dealt violent blows to the mercenary terrorists” in Salaheddin, “annihilating most of the terrorists.”
But Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FAS) denied the reports.
“It is not true the regime army has seized control of the district,” he told AFP via Skype.
“It is true that there is a barbaric and savage attack. They are using all the weapons at their disposal to attack Salaheddin, including fighter jets, tanks and mortars.”
He said there was fighting in many other districts, but that it was concentrated in Salaheddin because of the “great symbolic value for us and the army.”
The Syrian security official predicted that “the elimination of pockets of resistance should continue until Thursday morning. The army's intention is then to seize the adjacent district of Saif al-Dawla, to the east.”
On Sunday, the official said the army had massed 20 000 troops for the assault to recover Aleppo, where several districts are rebel-held. He said the insurgents had 6 000 to 8 000 men.
The Britain-based Observatory said that the clashes in the streets of Salaheddin and surrounding areas were the fiercest Aleppo has seen in the nearly 17-month uprising.
At least 14 civilians and one rebel were confirmed killed on Wednesday in the city, the watchdog said. - Sapa-AFP