Syria Battle
Smoke rises from Azaz vilage north of Aleppo, Syria, Monday, as seen from the Turkish border.

Reports claim that troops loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are battling to regain the upper hand in the country's second city, Aleppo.

On 22 July Al Jazeera television reported that rebel forces had taken control of three neighbourhoods within Aleppo, which has hitherto remained relatively calm in comparison with Syria's other major cities.

The commander of Syrian rebels in the Aleppo province, Col. Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, posted a video on YouTube announcing that his forces had begun an offensive across the city, with the intention of winning control from Assad's forces, and calling for government troops to defect.

However, eyewitnesses cited by Reuters now report that nearly 1,000 pro-Assad troops have been deployed to counter the rebel offensive, equipped with tanks and armoured vehicles.

In Damascus, Assad's forces have recaptured the strategically important districts of Mezzeh and Barzeh. According to witnesses and residents, several young people have been executed by the regime's forces.

"Most had bullet holes, one with as many as 18. Three had their hands tied behind their back. Some of the men were in their pyjamas. Several had their legs broken or fingers missing. Others were stabbed with knives," Bashir al-Kheir, an activist, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Reports suggests the border crossings taken by the rebels on 19-20 July have also been recaptured by government loyalists. However the rebels claim to have captured a new crossing, on the Turkish border near Aleppo.

"Seizing the border crossings does not have strategic importance but it has a psychological impact because it demoralises Assad's force. It (the new capture) is a show of progress for the revolutionaries, despite the superior firepower of Assad's troops," a senior Syrian army defector in Turkey, staff brigadier Faiz Amr, told Reuters by phone.

Furthermore, the rebels have reportedly taken control of an infantry school in the town of Musalmiyeh, a few kilometres from Aleppo city. Reports suggest the school has several ammunition depots, and guards a key gate to Aleppo.

The continuing heavy fighting has forced scores of civilians to flee the country, with thousands of refugees reported to have crossed the border into Lebanon.

Over 40,000 refugees have already entered camps in Turkey, which are reportedly suffering major shortages of food, water and sanitation.