Syrian Opposition rebels said on Monday that they had shot down a government warplane in eastern Syria, whilst calling for a no-fly zone to be created.

“The rebels shot down the plane and captured its pilot in the province of Deir al-Zour,” the opposition Local Coordination Committees reported.

The claim could not be independently verified. The rebels also called for the creation of a no-fly zone inside Syria to protect them during their battle to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

“What is hindering our movements to take control of more areas (in Syria) is the constant bombardment launched by the regime jets,” said Abu Alaa, a commander in the Syrian Free Army in the embattled city of Aleppo. “Imposing a no-fly zone is essential for us to continue our fight,” he told DPA.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdelbasset Sida, was quoted by Arab media on Monday as saying that most Western countries, including the United States, have started to see that a no-fly zone as “essential.” Mr. Sida’s comments came two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Turkey and said her country and Turkey would study a series of possible measures to help al-Assad’s opponents.

In Syria itself, fighting had been raging since the early hours of Monday in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, according to Mr. Abu Alaa.

The clashes came after rebels lost control of the district of Salaheddin on the southern outskirts of Aleppo, one of their key strongholds in the northern city.

Mr. Abu Alaa denied state media reports that the government troops had retaken control of the neighbouring district of Seif al-Dawla.

“We are still in full control of the district and we have carried out a major attack on the regime forces in the Zahra neighbourhood (an area close to Seif al-Dawla),” Mr. Abu Alaa said.

The three-week battle in Aleppo could decide the course of the conflict in Syria. However, fighting inside Syria’s key commercial hub seems to have settled into a stalemate.

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