In a multi-pronged offensive, Syrian government and allied troops pushed their into an area north of Aleppo city on Thursday, threatening a key rebel supply line and setting off intense clashes despite a day-old truce, pro-government fighters and opposition activists said.
Fierce fighting also broke out in the eastern and southern suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus, activists and rebel fighters reported.
Islam Alloush, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Islam fighting group, said government forces moved in on the suburb of Mayda, seeking to block a rebel supply line, while the opposition fought back to regain a number of areas previously captured. Government advances were also reported in Daraya, a besieged opposition-held town overlooking Damascus airport, the opposition-operated Facebook account of the Local Council of Daraya reported.
The violence came a day after Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government announced a three-day truce to coincide with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had praised the declaration and said efforts were underway to extend it.
On Thursday, the U.N. Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, noted “initial reports of potential violations” but urged all parties to abide by the truce.
Government forces and allied troops, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, have been mounting repeated attacks on the Castello road to close the only route to the opposition-held areas in Aleppo city. If they succeed in closing the road off completely, the rebels could lose one of their most-prized strongholds.
The government offensive secured control over the surrounding Mallah farms, leaving troops less than a mile (1.3 kilometers) away from Castello road, the military media arm of Hezbollah said. In a statement, it said the advance was in retaliation for violations of the truce by armed groups. Syrian State TV declared that, “terrorists are violating the truce.”
The rebel group, Nour al-Din Zinky, posted on its Facebook page that government warplanes and artillery heavily shelled the Mallah farms close to the road, and had taken control of some of them in an attempt to cut the rebel supply line. The group said it is battling alongside other fighters to regain control of the farms.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the clashes were reported to the west and east of Castello.
The state-run news agency reported that rebels shelled a government neighborhood of Aleppo on Wednesday, killing three people, while the anti-government Aleppo Media Center reported that at least two people were killed in government airstrikes and shelling on rebel-held neighborhoods of the contested city.
Ahmed Ramadan, an exiled Syrian political opposition member, wrote on his Twitter page that, “the truce of Bashar (Assad) the Butcher is a hoax.”