November 30, 2016 / 2:11 PM / 9 months ago

Syrian government forces, rebels fight in southeast Aleppo area

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian government forces and their allies clashed with rebels in southeast Aleppo on Wednesday, a rebel official and a monitor said, as Damascus and its allies try to build on major gains in the city.

There were conflicting accounts of the fighting in Sheikh Saeed, on the southeastern edge of Aleppo. A Syrian military source said government troops and their allies had captured the entire district, but a rebel official denied this.

Zakaria Malahifji, head of the political office of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim rebel group, said rebels had fully repelled the Syrian army and allied militias from Sheikh Saeed. There were ongoing clashes in the area, he added.

"The regime entered Sheikh Saeed, and then the rebel factions pushed it out," Malahifji said. "The factions took complete control of the district."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitoring group, said that rebel groups still controlled a third of the district, while government forces and allied militias had advanced and seized the rest of it.

Fierce fighting continued in the district, the Observatory said.

Aleppo has for years been divided between the government-held west and a rebel-held eastern zone, where the Syrian army and its allies have made a sweeping advance in recent days.

The war pits Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - backed by Russia, Iran and allied Shi'ite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan - against an array of rebel groups including some backed by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.

A major assault by government forces backed by allied militias has driven rebels from the northern part of their eastern Aleppo enclave, where they lost a third of the area they had held for years.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Catherine Evans

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