Agence France Presse
Published — Monday 1 April 2013
Last update 1 April 2013 3:12 am
BEIRUT: Fierce fighting between Syrian fighters and regime forces has sparked an exodus of residents from the northern Aleppo district of Sheikh Maqsud, a watchdog group said yesterday.
“The Sheikh Maqsud neighborhood has seen a major exodus after shells hit the area, destroying several homes,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“Hundreds of cars carrying families were seen leaving the neighborhood.”
Battles have been raging in the strategic, predominantly Kurdish neighborhood, since Friday, as regime troops try to prevent fighters from advancing into the district.
Sheikh Maqsud sits atop a hill, with vantage points over all of Aleppo. Its capture would be a key victory for the fighters, allowing them to target significant districts still in regime hands.
The Observatory said both the eastern and western parts of the district were under fire, with shelling destroying several homes and causing casualties.
Fighting had previously been concentrated in the eastern part of the area, which is home to the district’s non-Kurdish Sunni population.
On Saturday, the Observatory and Syrian state media reported that fighters had killed a pro-regime Sunni cleric in the neighborhood, dragging his body through the streets afterwards.
Sheikh Hassan Seifeddin “was killed overnight Friday by activists fighters in the east of the area and his body was dragged through the streets,” the Observatory said.
“The ulema (clerics) of Aleppo denounce this despicable crime committed by the enemies of humanity who assassinated Sheikh Hassan Seifeddin and laid his head on the minaret of Al-Hassan mosque in Sheikh Maqsud,” the station reported.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s state news agency says shells fired from inside Syria have struck Lebanese border villages.
The National News Agency said the shells exploded in four villages late Saturday near the northern border and that residents reported an unpleasant smell after the strikes.
The agency did not report any dead or wounded or say whether government troops or fighters fired the shells.
Shells and gunfire from the Syrian civil war have repeatedly crossed the border into Lebanon, occasionally killing and wounding civilians.