ALEPPO, Syria: Rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's forces in Aleppo promised yesterday they will hit back after losing ground under heavy bombardment, and residents fled in cars crammed with belongings during a lull in fighting.
The rebels were pushed back from the Salaheddine district on Thursday by troops seeking to re-establish control over Aleppo, which is Syria's largest city and economic hub.
"I have about 60 men positioned strategically at the front line and we are preparing a new attack today," said Abu Jamil, a rebel commander, saying sniper fire in Salaheddine had prevented his men from retrieving a comrade's body for two days.
Journalists saw residents streaming out of Aleppo, seizing on a calm spell to pack vehicles with mattresses, fridges and toys. At least two air force planes and one drone flew overhead. Random shooting echoed from inside Salaheddine, a former rebel stronghold that controls access from the south.
Some residents of the shattered neighbourhood slipped back to try to salvage possessions, despite army snipers lurking there. Two civilians were hit by gunfire in nearby streets.
In an apparent effort to project an air of normalcy, state television screened footage dated August 10 of a calm Aleppo, including images of its ancient citadel - UN World Heritage site - and cars flowing freely around a traffic circle.
In Damascus, residents reported shelling of the south-eastern district of Shebaa and said nine tanks could be seen on the road heading out to the airport.
The US was preparing to announce further sanctions yesterday targeting the Syrian government and people or firms that support it, a senior US official told reporters travelling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Repeated rounds of US and European sanctions, announced every few months, have had a negligible impact on the war. Russia and China have blocked UN Security Council action that would have allowed tighter, global sanctions against Damascus.
Iran, Syria's closest foreign ally, called for "serious and inclusive" talks between the government and opposition at a meeting of states sympathetic to Assad in Tehran on Thursday.
Assad's offensive to reassert control over Aleppo follows a successful drive to expel rebels from parts of Damascus they seized after a bomb blast in the capital killed four of his senior aides on July 18.