Syrian rebels on Thursday said they were in control of half of the country’s second-largest city, Aleppo, but facing massive firepower from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Fighting between government forces and rebels in the northern city since the weekend has forced residents to flee, according to activists.

“Our revolutionary fighters are now controlling 50 per cent of the city. They have repulsed at least two major attacks by the regime troops,” Abu Omar al-Halabi, a rebel Free Syrian Army commander told DPA by phone.

“The fighter jets have been carrying out bombardment attacks since the early hours of the day in the area of Salaheddine and Mashaad on the outskirts of Aleppo to prevent arrival of reinforcements for the revolutionaries,” al-Halabi said.

Fierce fighting erupted between the government forces and rebels in the city’s district of al-Muhafaza, said the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It did not give casualty figures.

Both sides are bracing for what observers say will be a decisive battle for Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital.

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