BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian government forces carried out heavy airstrikes on rebel positions in and around the northern city of Aleppo on Friday, aiming to repel a major Islamist-led offensive on areas controlled by President Bashar al-Assad.
Thursday’s attack, the most intense insurgent offensive in Aleppo in three years, aimed to build on recent advances against Assad by an array of groups fighting on separate fronts, including Islamic State and rebels backed by his regional foes.
Aleppo, 50 km (30 miles) south of the Turkish border, was Syria’s most populous city before the country’s descent into civil war. It has been partitioned into zones of government and insurgent control since 2012.
Aleppo is of vital importance to Assad, and losing it would further entrench a de facto partition of Syria between western areas still governed from Damascus and the rest of the country run by a patchwork of militias.
Elsewhere in Syria, The United States and its allies have conducted 24 air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on Thursday, the coalition leading the operations said in a statement on Friday.
Elsewhere in Syria, US coalition forces targeted Islamic State positions with nine strikes near the cities of Hasakah, Ar Raqqah and Tal Abyad, destroying tactical units, fighting positions, vehicles and structures.
(Writing by Sandra Maler; Tom Perry; Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by Andrea Ricci; Mark Heinrich)