Rebel groups have regained an area of Aleppo near where fighters are laying siege to government troops holding the city's prison, according to activists.

Live Box 2012108933861442

Fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups were reported on Saturday to have retaken the area of Al Birej, which is located between the rebel-held district of Shiekh Najjar and the prison area.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a pro-rebel monitoring group, reported that 27 fighters were killed in that battle. Videos said to be of the fighting were posted on the Youtube website.

The clashes were an apparent counter-attack to the government's efforts to retake Sheikh Najjar district, opening a corridor beween Aleppo city and its countryside, and breaking the siege of Aleppo prison. 

Clashes were also reported on Friday in the west of Aleppo, near a government air intelligence base and Zahraa artillery base.

One video released on Youtube shows fighters advancing over open ground towards the air intelligence base, although its provenance could not be verified by Al Jazeera.

The fighting comes days after rebels blew up the city's Carlton hotel, which was being used as a barracks for government troops.

Residents return to Homs 

In the city of Homs, thousands of Syrians walked into war-battered areas for the first time in two years after the withdrawal of rebels in a ceasefire agreement with regime forces.

Men and women fanned out through rubble-strewn streets of the Old City area on Saturday checking what was left of their possessions. Some accused rebels of looting their homes. 

Government troops had blockaded the rebels and civilians in the area for months as the country's civil war raged around them. 

Activists say the three-year-old conflict has killed more than 150,000 people, and forced millions of civilians to flee their country.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies