A building on fire after a shelling in the city of Aleppo. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters repelled a rebel attack on an army base in Aleppo on Saturday after a 20-hour battle. Photo: EPA

Syrian army repels rebel attack on Aleppo barracks

Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters repelled a rebel attack on an army base in the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday after a 20-hour battle, military officials and witnesses said.

The government forces pushed rebels out of the Hanano military base, a fortress-like compound in the east of the city, parts of which rebels claimed to have captured on Friday, they said.

“There are a lot of victims on both sides,” a witness said.

A military official in Aleppo, Syria’s second city and commercial hub, said soldiers destroyed six armoured vehicles which rebels were using to transport weapons seized in the barracks.

“The rebels had thrown themselves full whole-heartedly into this offensive because they desperately need weapons,” the army source said on condition of anonymity.

The Hanano base serves as a weapons storage depot, a conscript recruitment centre and also houses the headquarters of the local branch of the military police and anti-riot police.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebels on Friday stormed the area reserved for conscript recruitment.

At least 18 soldiers and four rebels were killed in Friday’s fighting, according to the Observatory.

There were no immediate reports of casualties for the overnight battles during which the army pushed back the rebels.

Brigades of the rebel Free Syrian Army took part in the offensive, a rebel commander who identified himself as Abu Omar said on Friday.

He said the goal of the operation was to liberate Hanano, cut strategic supply lines and put a stop to shelling that has caused high civilian casualties in Aleppo.

FSA media coordinator Abdullah Yasser said the assault aimed to take down one of three main positions used by the army to shell rebel-held areas, which are concentrated in the east of Aleppo.

“Hanano is one of the main places from which they are shooting, so taking it over could be a turning point for us,” he said.

Also on Saturday, troops and rebels clashed elsewhere in and around the city of Aleppo, the capital Damascus and other parts of the country, the Observatory said.

It said rebels attacked a military checkpoint northwest of the besieged city, with five fighters reportedly killed when their unit tried to overtake the army position in Al-Layramoon industrial district.

Several members of the government forces were also “killed and wounded” in the attack, it added.

Later, warplanes bombarded the town of Anadan, northwest of Aleppo, in an apparent retaliatory strike, the Observatory added.

Elsewhere in the northern city, two rockets fired by “terrorists” struck a church and a convent in the Christian neighbourhood of Aziziyeh, according to state television.

Government forces also shelled the rebel neighbourhoods of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad and Tadamun in southern Damascus at dawn on Saturday, the Observatory said.

There was also violence in the flashpoint central city of Homs where at least one rebel fighter was killed in clashes while 12 troops died in fighting in Hara, a town in the southern province of Daraa, it added.

Troops also pounded rebel positions in Albu Kamal in eastern Syria, shelling areas around the Hamdan military airport -- which rebels had attacked earlier in the week, the Observatory said.

At least 136 people were killed across Syrian on Friday, the Observatory said, including 73 civilians, 38 soldiers and 25 rebel fighters.