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Jul 7, 7:27 AM EDT

Militants attack government-held neighborhood in north Syria


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BEIRUT (AP) -- Intense clashes broke out Tuesday in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo after militants attacked a government-held neighborhood there, capturing several buildings, activists said.

The Local Coordination Committees and the Aleppo Media Center said the fighting was concentrated in the western Zahra neighborhood.

A former industrial and commercial hub, Aleppo has been carved up between government and rebel-held neighborhoods since July 2012. With Syria's largest city devastated by three years of fighting, many of its residents have long fled.

Opposition fighters and Islamic militants have launched a series of attacks in Aleppo since last week, capturing the city's Scientific Research Center that was used as a military base. Activists said Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen have been trying to retake the base with no luck so far.

The LCC and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack on Zahra started on Monday night with a large explosion that killed government troops and pro-government gunmen.

The Observatory said it was a suicide attack carried out by a member of al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front. It said the blast killed 25 troops and pro-government gunmen. The Observatory also said that 19 militants have been killed since Monday night.

The fighting is part of a new coordinated offensive in Aleppo by a newly-formed coalition between the Nusra Front and other factions, including the ultra-conservative Ahrar al-Sham group. The coalition, which calls itself Ansar al-Sharia, has said it seeks to "liberate" Aleppo.

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