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Syrian Army pushes to break rebel frontlines in battle for Aleppo

The Syrian Army deployed planes and a helicopter gunship as it targeted rebel positions in Aleppo, a key city in Syria's civil war. Fighting also intensified in Damascus Saturday.

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Bullets zipped past residential buildings, as rebels took cover behind concrete blocks and makeshift sandbags and fired in the direction of Assad's forces.

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One fighter fell to the ground after a bullet hit his chest. Fellow rebels dragged him into a car, leaving a trail of blood on the ground, to take him to the field hospital.

Explosions shook the shutters of abandoned shops and brought down a rain of concrete from buildings in Salaheddine.

A Syrian activist told Reuters the rebels had earlier sought to extend their area of control from the Salaheddine district, where the most intense fighting has been focused, northwards to the area around the television and radio station.

"The Free Syrian Army pushed from Salaheddine to al-Adhamiya where they clashed this morning with Syrian troops. But they had to retreat," the activist who identified himself as Barraa al-Halabi told Reuters.

A 19-year-old fighter called Mu'awiya al-Halabi, who was at the scene, said rebels entered the station but were driven out.

"The Syrian Army sent snipers and surrounded the TV station and as soon as morning came, the Army started shooting. One of our fighters was martyred and four were wounded," he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said 110 people had been killed on Friday, including 88 civilians, also confirmed the clash near the station.

Superior firepower

Syrian television said a large number of terrorists, the term it uses for the rebels, were killed and wounded after they tried to storm the television and radio station. It said the Army had killed dozens of fighters in Hamadaniyeh, Sukkari, and Salaheddine districts and that others had surrendered.

Earlier in the day, a local rebel commander in Aleppo said he expected a Syrian Army attack on rebels "within days," echoing the head of the UN peacekeeping department, who said there had been a "considerable buildup of military means."

"We know they are planning to attack the city using tanks and aircraft, shooting at us for three to four days and they plan to take the city," Colonel Abdel-Jabbar al-Oqaidi said.

Faced with the Syrian Army's superior firepower, Oqaidi said the rebels were counting on mass defections by government soldiers once the offensive started.

"At the moment, the soldiers cannot leave their bases and they are too afraid to defect. Once they are inside our city they will take off their uniforms and join us," he said.

In Damascus, a resident in the Adawi neighbourhood just north of the central Old City district, reported that jets had pounded an area of the capital on Saturday. "The bombardment has been continuous since 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) in Tadamun district. It hasn't stopped for a moment," said the resident.

On Friday Syrian forces stormed Tadamun, the rebels' last stronghold in the city.

Syrian television said on Saturday an armed terrorist group had committed a massacre in the Damascus suburb of Yalda, near Tadamun. The television station said 20 people had been killed. It was not immediately possible to veriy the incident, as Syria bars many foreign media from reporting inside the country.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is quitting as international peace envoy for Syria, said on Thursday that Assad should step down. He urged Syria allies Russia, China, and Iran to persuade him to embrace political transition.

A busload of 48 Iranian pilgrims were abducted by gunmen in Syria on Saturday, Iranian media reported, the latest in a string of kidnappings of visitors from the Islamic Republic.

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