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Syria rebels renew Aleppo attack before Russia ceasefire


Aleppo has been hit by some of the worst violence in Syrias five-year conflict
Aleppo has been hit by some of the worst violence in Syrias five-year conflict

ALEPPO (SYRIA),AFP, 3 Nov. 2016- Syrian rebels renewed their bid to break a government siege of eastern Aleppo on Thursday, shelling regime-held parts of the city hours before a brief Russian-declared ceasefire was due to begin.

Rebels have been battling for nearly a week in a desperate bid to break the three-month siege but have so far been unable to push through government lines in western Aleppo.

The opposition forces on Thursday announced a new phase in their assault on government forces in the city's western outskirts.

"We have started the second phase in our fight to break the siege with heavy artillery fire" on several neighbourhoods, rebel fighter Abu Hamza told AFP on the edges of Aleppo.

Thick black smoke billowed out of the Dahiyet al-Assad district, where rebels had lit tyres to try to shield themselves from warplanes circling above.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the "most intense fighting" was on the edges of the Halab al-Jadida neighbourhood.

The clashes on Aleppo's western outskirts could be heard in the city's eastern districts, an AFP correspondent there said.

No aid has reached eastern Aleppo city's more than 250,000 residents since early July, and there are reports of shortages and price hikes.

- Civilians killed -

The Observatory said government forces were carrying out air strikes in areas where clashes were underway, but that the rebel-held neighbourhoods in the east of the city were largely quiet.

Once Syria's economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been divided since mid-2012 between government control in the west and rebels in the east.

A Russian-backed army offensive in September to recapture the whole city killed hundreds of civilians and hit infrastructure including the east's few remaining health facilities.

It provoked international recriminations, particularly against Russia, with the EU accusing it of actions that "may amount to war crimes".

Moscow has rejected the criticism and in late October declared a unilateral three-day ceasefire, during which it urged civilians and rebels to leave east Aleppo.

Moscow said Wednesday it would implement a new, 10-hour "humanitarian pause" for Aleppo on Friday, prompting the UN to warn that "humanitarian operations cannot be contingent on political or military initiatives".

The pause was meant to "prevent senseless casualties", the chief of Russia's General Staff Valery Gerasimov said.

The Syrian army said the pause would start at 9:00 am (0700 GMT) local time.

More than 300,000 have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in 2011 with anti-government protests that spiralled into a multi-front war involving regime, rebels, Kurds and jihadists like IS.