An injured rebel fighter is aided during heavy fighting Thursday with Syrian… (Miguel Medina / AFP/Getty…)
BEIRUT — Some of the fiercest clashes in weeks in the Syrian city of Aleppo were reported Friday as rebels said they were pressing a "decisive" battle for the besieged northern metropolis.
As night fell, it was unclear whether either side had made any substantial advances in the city, which has been divided between government and opposition forces for more than two months. The battle had evolved into a brutal war of attrition until Friday's surge in urban combat.
There was no overall casualty count from Friday's clashes in Aleppo, Syria's most populous city and its commercial hub. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the city and the once-vibrant economy has ground to a halt since fighting broke out in July.
One opposition activist reached in the city said the fierce clashes early Friday had died down by the afternoon. Another opposition activist, who goes by the nickname Tony Al Taieb, acknowledged that the "liberation" of Aleppo "is still a little far off."
The official state news agency reported that the army had inflicted "heavy losses" on "terrorists"— as it calls the armed opposition — during intense clashes in several neighborhoods, including the historic Old City, which has been the scene of heavy combat for weeks.
A rebel spokesman told Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite channel, that fighting raged across 10 fronts in the city.
Rebel units brought six captured tanks into the city early Friday and deployed militiamen from the suburbs, said Al Taieb, the opposition activist, reached via Skype. The rebels burned garbage to provide cover from air raids, but government jets attacked after the smoke cleared, the activist said.
The government, using artillery, tanks and aircraft, has a major firepower advantage in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, where an 18-month uprising seeks to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.
Despite the fighting, the opposition reported that protesters took to the streets of several districts of Aleppo after Muslim's Friday prayers to demand Assad's ouster.
A pro-opposition group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said nearly 20 shells fired by rebel fighters in Aleppo fell on the government-controlled district of Sulaymaniya, home to many Christians, and four people were killed.
An unverified opposition video on the Internet showed a bearded fighter with a walkie-talkie identified as a leader of the Al Tawheed Brigade, a major rebel unit, urging comrades forward and declaring, "Today, God willing, is a decisive day in Aleppo. Just persevere, and follow the path of God."
The enthusiastic rebels then proceeded in an uneven column along a debris-strewn street, carrying their assorted weapons, a collection of AK-47 rifles, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to the opposition video.
Meanwhile, in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. officials convened a meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria and announced $45 million in aid. The package consists of $30 million in humanitarian relief and $15 million in nonlethal aid for the opposition, consisting mostly of communications gear.
The group met with some leaders of the opposition and urged them to overcome their differences.
Diplomacy at the U.N. has been gridlocked on how to deal with the Syrian conflict because to differences among world powers. But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted that the U.S. would try to work around that stalemate.
"We're not waiting," she said.
A Times staff writer in Beirut and staff writer Paul Richter at the United Nations contributed to this report.