Aleppo, Syria's second and largest city, has become a key battleground in the 17-month uprising against Bashar al-Assad's government.
"The battle of Aleppo is a senior battle, the mother of the battles .... Insurgents and opposition took advantage that the Syrian army was really busy in fighting inside Damascus and they succeeded to establish a surge inside Aleppo .... The Syrian army is planning to surround Aleppo, ... they will ask the population to leave and they will cut any support to the insurgents inside Aleppo."
- Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general
It is the country's commercial capital and its biggest urban area near the border with Turkey where rebels have taken control of a number of border crossings.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched a major offensive in Aleppo a week ago but Bashar al-Assad's army is launching a major push to drive out rebels fighters, taking two days to manouevre heavy weapons into positions around the city.
And in the surrounding countryside, the FSA appears to be making gains.
Activists say helicopter gunships are firing into the Salaheddine and al-Sukkari neighbourhoods. Explosions have also been heard in the al-Firdous neighbourhood.
And there have been reports of an exchange of gunfire near the Mahatet Baghdad railway station, as well as government army tanks in a number of other neighbourhoods.
In the town of al-Bab, just half an hour's drive from Aleppo, al-Assad's army has retreated to a base on the outskirts, from where it has been shelling the town and shooting at civilians.
"This regime is using 500kg bombs in Aleppo ... in a way of a collective punishment, it itself showed us and proved that the regime is out of control .... If the ... Free Syrian Army somehow gets Aleppo, it naturally will create ... a no-fly zone because between Aleppo and Turkey there is almost nothing and everything is almost under control of [the] Free Syrian Army and [the] Assad regime will be forced out of Aleppo."
- Taha Ozan, the director general of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research
The fighters are surprised at how much they have achieved in a matter of a few days. The catalyst, they say, was the killing of the military and security chiefs in Damascus. That blow against the regime gave them new confidence.
The FSA in al-Bab believes it is only a matter of days before the remnants of the regime's army surrender.
The opposition fighters are much closer now to realising their objective and they are achieving it with home-made bombs hidden in trees, kalashnikovs, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades.
There is a lot at stake for both sides in this battle, so what are the government tactics to retake Aleppo?
Inside Syria, with presenter Laura Kyle, discusses with guests: Taha Ozan, director general of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research; Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general; and Monzer Eid al-Zamalkani, a research fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at Saint Andrews University.
" ... the people of Aleppo must be free - and they will be victorious, because their cause is a just cause and the cause of Syria is a just cause."
Yusuf Ahmed al-Chader, a FSA commander
FACTS ABOUT THE BATTLE IN ALEPPO:
- Government forces intensify attacks on Aleppo, where residents have reported blasts in several neighbourhoods
- US and France fear Syrian government forces are preparing a massacre in Aleppo
- Opposition in Aleppo say they are outnumbered but they are prepared to fight on
- International committee of the Red Cross has pulled some staff out of Syria
- UN says up to a million people have been displaced by violence in Syria
- Around 43,000 Syrians have escaped to Turkey since the uprising began
- UN warns of a refugee crisis as Syrians flee the country
- Ikhlas al-Badawi, a member of the Syrian parliament has defected and fled to Turkey
- Al-Badawi is the first parliamentarian to defect from the Syrian government
- US says defections are evidence that al-Assad's days are numbered
- Saudi Arabia and Qatar are taking the lead in drafting a new resolution on Syria
Source: Al Jazeera