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Syrian rebel fighters have launched what they described as a "decisive" battle in Aleppo, bringing "unprecedented" clashes to the streets of the city as they try to wrest certain neighborhoods from government control.
Their goal is not to liberate the whole city, but to regain control over parts of the city the Free Syrian Army has lost, a local FSA commander told the Guardian. The offensive was launched at 4 p.m. yesterday, he said, speaking by phone from the city.
We wanted to [surprise] the Syrian army which had started to creep forward towards the southern neighbourhoods. The Tawheed brigade was enticing the Syrian army forward to face all the fighting brigades in the city.
We have been reconsidering this a battle for a week. The plan to launch the battle today was top secret, and now the mosques in Aleppo are praying for the FSA.
There are 6,000 fighters of the Tawheed brigade taking part in the battle now, in addition to a few other brigades like al-Fatah and Ahfad al-Fatiheen for the Turkmen. We have prepared good ammunition for the battle, we have confiscated a lot of weapons from Masaken Hananou belonging to the Syrian army. We have Russian weapons used by the regime and we will use them against the Syrian army.
Aleppo, Syria's largest city and its commercial capital, has been the site of fierce fighting for more than two months now, but the FSA and government troops have been locked in a stalemate for several weeks, the Associated Press reports.
"The fighting is unprecedented and has not stopped since Thursday. The clashes used to be limited to one or two blocks of a district, but now the fighting is on several fronts," said [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Residents in the central districts of Sulimaniyeh and Sayyid Ali, previously spared the worst of fighting, also told AFP that the violence and mortar fire from rebels was "unprecedented".
"The sound from the fighting and the gunfire has been non-stop. Everyone is terrified. I have never heard anything like this before," said a 30-year-old resident of Sulimaniyeh who only identified himself as Ziad.
"This is the first time I have seen something like this in Sayyid Ali. Normally there are two or three mortars. But last night the intensity was unprecedented," another resident told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, as the country experienced one of its deadliest days yet on Wednesday, the United Nations announced that if Syrians continue to flee at the same rate they have been, it expects the number of registered refugees to more than double by the end of the year, reaching 710,000, according to The New York Times.
“This is not business as usual,” [Panos Moumtzis, the agency’s regional coordinator for Syrian refugees,] said. He appealed for $488 million to finance international relief efforts that have been overwhelmed by the speed and scale of the refugee flow.
The flight of Syrian refugees has repeatedly overrun United Nations estimates. Now, with security deteriorating further in Syria, refugees are leaving the country at a rate of 2,000 to 3,000 a day.