By Erika Solomon
BEIRUT, July 24 (Reuters) - Syrian army helicopters fired rockets and machineguns near central Aleppo on Tuesday as they battled rebels trying to enlarge their foothold in Syria's second city, forcing residents to flee.
Residents said fighter jets were flying over some rebel-held neighbourhoods, and that helicopters were firing at eastern and southern parts of the city located around only 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) east of Aleppo's ancient citadel in the city centre.
"I heard at least 20 rockets fired, I think from helicopters, and also a lot of machinegun fire," said a resident near one of the areas being shelled, who asked only to be identified by his first name Omar.
"Almost everyone has fled in panic, even my family. I have stayed to try to stop the looters, we hear they often come after an area is shelled," he added.
Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub and its largest city, lies close to the country's northern border with Turkey.
Until recently, it had been relatively calm compared to much of the country which has been rocked by violent battles between government troops and rebels taking part in a 16-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Video uploaded by activists showed rebels in camouflage vests running through the streets of the historic central district of Bab al-Hadid with their assault rifles as the clatter of machinegun fire echoed in the background.
Rebels in Aleppo said Bab al-Hadid sits on a strategic hilltop area close to a security force compound and that it had become the main battle site. They said that opposition forces held nearly half the city.
"The battle is still in our favour. That is why the regime is using its air force. There is little we can do against it," said a fighter who called himself Abu Sufyan, speaking by telephone.
He said 60 people had been wounded so far, but did not give a death toll.
Two residents said a war plane fired a rocket on an area called Bab al-Tareeq, but other residents thought the jet had simply broken the sound barrier.
"I heard this whooshing sound, and then bam. Then everything, the whole neighbourhood was shaking," Omar, the resident, said.
An activist called Tamam said helicopters were targeting sites where they thought there were large numbers of rebels. Speaking by telephone, he said more and more residents were fleeing the eastern and southern parts of the city.
"I myself am leaving as well, the situation is too horrible," he said.
BEFORE YOU GO
09/09/2012 12:25 PM EDT
Syria Blasts Aleppo By Air
09/05/2012 7:50 AM EDT
Syrian City In Flames
08/25/2012 1:45 PM EDT
Lebanese Pilgrim Freed
Hussein Ali Omar, 60, one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims that Syrian rebels have been holding for three months in Syria, hugs his mother, right, upon arrival at his house in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Syrian rebels freed Omar on Saturday in a move aimed at easing cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon. The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
08/24/2012 12:22 PM EDT
This image made from video and released by Shaam News Network and accessed Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, purports to show the funeral of children in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb on Thursday following two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said. At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles (kilometers) southwest of Damascus. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)
08/24/2012 11:05 AM EDT
Lebanon Sees Heaviest Clashes In Months
Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime killed two people in Lebanon on Friday, the Associated Press reports. 17 people were injured.
The AP gives more context:
Syria was in virtual control of its smaller neighbor for many years, posting tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, before withdrawing under pressure in 2005. Even without soldiers on the ground, Syria remains influential, and its civil war has stirred longstanding tensions that have lain under Lebanon's surface.
Read more on HuffPost World.
08/24/2012 11:02 AM EDT
A Sunni gunman fires a gun during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The latest round of fighting first erupted on Monday in northern Lebanon and at least 15 have been killed in Tripoli this week and more than 100 have been wounded in fighting that is a spillover from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
08/24/2012 11:00 AM EDT
Refugee Numbers Soar
@ KenRoth :
UN reports 200,000 #Syria refugees, 30,000 in past week alone. Many more internally displaced not counted. http://t.co/BaM6u59j
08/23/2012 2:00 PM EDT
Syrian boy Musataf Alhafiz, 11, who fled his home with his family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, carries his brother Saif, 9 months, while he and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced by the country's civil war are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes by government forces continue. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
08/23/2012 12:09 PM EDT
Heaviest Bombardment This Month
Helicopter gunships shelled Damascus on Wednesday as Syrian security forces intensified their assault on the capital. Activists report that at least 47 people were killed.
"The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," a woman in the neighborhood of Kfar Souseh told Reuters.
Read more on HuffPost World.