A top Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander says Syria’s rebels control almost two-thirds of the northern city of Aleppo, in a claim denied by a security source in Damascus.
The news came as seven people were killed and around 100 wounded in clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli.
Syria’s second city Aleppo has been at the epicentre of the conflict since fighting erupted there almost a month ago, triggering a major army assault about a week later.
FSA colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi said: “We now control more than 60 per cent of the city of Aleppo, and each day we take control of new districts.”
“Every time we seize an area, the army responds with shelling.”
His claims could not immediately be verified, but a security source said, “This is completely false”.
“The terrorists are not advancing, it is the army that is making slow progress.
“Terrorist groups occasionally come out of districts under their control and attack other districts to be able to then claim they have this or that street under their control.
“After that, they quickly return to their lairs.”
Mr Okaidi, the FSA commander for the province of Aleppo, listed more than 30 districts that he said are under FSA control.
Among them were the south-western neighbourhoods of Saif al-Dawla, Bustan al-Qasr, Mashhad, Ansari and Fardoss, as well as Shaar, Hanano and Sakhur in the east, Bustan al-Basha in the northeast, Sheikh Saeed Fardoss in the south, and Kalasse near the city centre.
About half of the embattled district of Salaheddin is in rebel hands, Mr Okaidi said, adding that the FSA also holds the central neighbourhood of Tilal.
Mr Okaidi said Aleppo’s residents are helping the FSA by giving them food and water.
“The people are with us. How else do you think we could have lasted a month?” he said.
Syria’s former prime minister Riad Hijab, who fled to Jordan earlier this month after defecting, last week said the regime was collapsing and only controlled a third of the conflict-wracked country.
“The Syrian regime only controls 30 per cent of Syria’s territory. It has collapsed militarily, economically and morally,” Mr Hijab said.
“I assure you, based on my experience and the post I held, that the regime has cracked.”
Meanwhile in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, two people were killed and more than 60 were wounded in clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites.
Security and medical said the violence was further spill-over from the war in neighbouring Syria.
Sunni-Alawite tensions in Tripoli have been heightened by the 18-month-old, mainly Sunni, uprising in Syria against Syrian president Bashar al Assad, an Alawite.
Gunmen in the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh and their Alawite rivals in Jebel Mohsen exchanged gun and grenade fire in sporadic fighting in the early hours of Tuesday (local time), despite action by Lebanese army troops deployed in the port city, residents said.
One of the dead men was identified by residents as a man from Jebel Mohsen, a hill inhabited mainly by Alawites and which overlooks the predominantly Sunni area below.
The other man was from the Hejjar family in Bab al-Tabbaneh.
An army statement said soldiers raided buildings used by gunmen and “retaliated swiftly against sources of gunfire”.
It said five soldiers were wounded on Monday evening and another five, including an officer, were hurt on Tuesday by a hand grenade lobbed at an army base.
Aside from the army casualties, about 35 civilians or fighters were wounded in Bab al-Tabbaneh and 15 in Jebel Mohsen, residents and medics said.