Snipers Versus Tanks In Aleppo

ALEPPO, Syria, (AFP) - In Aleppo's Mashhad neighborhood, rebels man a series of sniping positions, eyeing the government forces and their tank just 50 meters (yards) up a sniper alley from behind a short wall of sandbags.

There are other tanks nearby, and when they fire the boom reverberates through otherwise quiet streets almost empty of civilians.

The fighters spot a young boy carrying belongings wrapped in a blanket as he approaches the sniper alley, and call out to him.

''Hey you, boy, stop right there!'' one fighter shouts. The boy freezes, standing by a smoldering pile of rubbish, then dashes across the alley at the rebels' signal.

They stop him as he arrives safely on the other side, suspicious that he could be a spotter for the government forces nearby. They ask him what he is doing and what he is carrying.

He loosens the knot tying the blanket together to reveal a pile of clothes and bedsheets.

''My family has all left the neighborhood, I just came back to get us some things,'' he says, before the rebels send him on his way again.

The fighting in the neighborhood is sporadic, incoming sniper fire followed by the cracks of returning outgoing gunshots.

At one point the rebels decide to send a group across the sniper alley, so their comrades open covering fire and spent bullet casings fly up into the air and onto the pavement as three men dash across the street.

Their mission is to detonate a mine the rebels say was left behind by government forces, both to prevent anyone else from driving over it and to scare the other side a little too.

''Get back, get back,'' they shout, before a loud explosion sounds, sending dust and shrapnel metres into the air and prompting chants of ''God is greatest'' from the rebels.

On the edge of the Saif al-Dawla neighborhood, the sounds of explosions come from the other side, with government tanks arrayed across the neighborhood, firing shells every 10 minutes.

They land in back yards and roads, sending up white plumes of smoke and forcing cars to speed along routes, the drivers unsure whether they might be hit.

The rebel commander, a stout man with a fleshy face covered in stubble, shouts into a walkie-talkie, the primary means of communication for the rebels.

''The situation? They are trying to advance in the area, we're holding them back, but there are a lot of wounded and martyrs,'' he tells a fellow commander.

As he speaks, word comes that government tanks are also on the move in the nearby Sukari neighborhood, and he calls up some of his men for dispatch to the scene.

''We don't have enough RPGs to go around,'' one rebel complains, referring to rocket-propelled grenades.

''Just one is enough; you can take out the whole army,'' the commander insists.

The fighting in Saif al-Dawla is among the fiercest in the city, and the rebels said the body of a civilian killed by a tank overnight is still lying in the neighborhood's main street because it is too dangerous to retrieve it.

Elsewhere in Aleppo, tanks sow destruction and fear by the Jisr al-Haj roundabout, on the edge of the Fardoss district.

Multiple tank rounds were fired on the edge of the roundabout in the afternoon, prompting panicked civilians to run to the relative safety provided by nearby walls. Some sheltered under an overpass in a bid to avoid flying shrapnel.

Minibuses trying to pass through the area on their way out of the city were forced to screech through the roundabout, their passengers tense and wide-eyed as shells exploded just meters away.