BEIRUT — Fierce fighting broke out around the Syrian city of Aleppo Friday as rebels announced a large-scale offensive to break the government's siege of opposition-held areas.
A reporter inside the city on the pro-government Mayadeen TV channel reported attacks on "all sides" of the city, "from the furthest points north to furthest south."
Sounds of heavy gunfire, mortar fire, and explosions were heard in the background of his broadcast. Dark smoke was seen rising above the city on the overcast morning.
Presumed government or Russian jets were also heard flying overhead. The reporter said they were targeting rebel positions.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels detonated two car bombs against government positions to the city's southwest and attacked with hundreds of rockets. It said at least one of the vehicles was driven by a suicide bomber for the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front.
Aleppo is the focal point of the six-year war. President Bashar Assad has said he is determined to retake the country's largest city and former commercial capital. The government has maintained a siege on the rebel-held eastern quarters since September. The U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped inside with dwindling supplies of food and medicine.
The Islamic Front rebel coalition announced on Twitter Friday morning that the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group targeted a military airport to the east of the city with Grad rockets and destroyed a government position to the west of the city.
Ammar Sakkar, the military spokesman for the Fastaqim faction inside the city, said "all the revolutionary factions, without exception, are participating in the battle."
This is the second attempt by rebels to break the government's siege. They opened a corridor to the east for the month of August after pro-government forces first applied a blockade in July.
Rebels launched the offensive as the Russian, Syrian, and Iranian foreign ministers met in Moscow. Iran and Russia are Assad's main backers and have committed air power, ground forces, and military advisers to the war.