A Syrian government airstrike on a heavily contested neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo killed at least five people on Saturday, while regime forces battled rebels in a town outside the capital of Damascus, activists said.
Aleppo and Damascus — Syria's two largest cities — are two of the key fronts in the civil war between President Bashar Assad and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime. Opposition fighters have managed to seize control of several neighborhoods in Aleppo since storming the city last summer, while the regime has largely kept the rebels at bay so far in Damascus, although opposition fighters have captured several suburbs of the capital and look increasingly capable of threatening the heart of the city — and Assad's power.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air raid on Saturday hit Aleppo's Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood, which rebels seized parts of last weekend after days of heavy fighting with regime troops.
Both sides are eager to control the strategic district, which is predominantly inhabited by minority Kurds. The neighborhood is located on a hill on the northern edge of Aleppo and overlooks much of the city, giving those who control it the ability to pound districts held by the opposing side with mortars and artillery.
The rebels control large swaths of northern Syria, and captured their first provincial capital — the city of Raqqa — last month. They have also been making gains in recent weeks in the south, seizing military bases and towns in the strategically important region between Damascus and the border with Jordan, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the capital.
On Saturday, government troops clashed with rebels in the town of Otaybah east of Damascus, the Observatory said.
In the capital itself, several mortar rounds hit areas near the Tishrin football stadium, killing one person and wounding at least 13, the state-run SANA news agency said. The stadium is located in the capital's central Baramkeh district. The attacks also caused material damage to stores in the district and set several parked vehicles on fire, SANA said.
The Observatory said mortar rounds also struck the Damascus suburb of Jaramana. There were no immediate reports of casualties.