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Syrian forces pound rebels

Syrian army tanks shelled Aleppo on Sunday and a helicopter gunship strafed rebel positions with heavy machinegun fire as they fought for control of the country's biggest city and key battleground of the 17-month uprising.

world Updated: Aug 06, 2012 02:01 IST

Syrian army tanks shelled Aleppo on Sunday and a helicopter gunship strafed rebel positions with heavy machinegun fire as they fought for control of the country's biggest city and key battleground of the 17-month uprising.

After UN Security Council paralysis on Syria forced peace envoy Kofi Annan to resign last week, and with his ceasefire plan a distant memory, rebels have been battered by the government onslaught in Aleppo and the capital Damascus.

Reuters witnessed fierce street fighting in the Salaheddine district, a gateway into the city of 2.5 million people .

Tanks pounded alleyways where rebels sought cover. State television said Assad's forces were "cleansing the terrorist filth" from the country, which has been sucked into an increasingly sectarian conflict that has killed some 18,000 people and could spill into neighbouring states.

In Damascus, troops backed by fighter jets kept up an offensive on Saturday that they began a day earlier against the last rebel bastion there, a resident said.

Both cities — vital prizes in the battle for Syria — were relatively free of violence until last month, when fighters poured into Damascus shortly before a July 18 bomb killed four of Assad's inner circle, and entered Aleppo days later.

Rebels say they anticipate a major Syrian army offensive in Aleppo and one fighter said they had already had to pull back from some streets after army snipers advanced on Saturday under cover of the fierce aerial and tank bombardment.