Karin Laub

BEIRUT: Rebels on Friday pressed their broadest assault yet to drive President Bashar Assad’s forces out of Syria’s largest city, activists said, with fierce fighting erupting in an Aleppo neighborhood that is home to Kurds, an ethnic minority that has mostly stayed out of the civil war.

The military battle for control of the country has been locked in a stalemate, most visibly in Aleppo, a northern city of 3 million. Since a rebel offensive on Aleppo two months ago, each side has controlled about half of the city and has repeatedly tried — but failed — to capture the rest. Aleppo would be a major strategic prize, giving the victor new momentum.

Late Thursday, rebels forces launched what they said would be a “decisive battle” that by Friday had spread to wide swaths of the city. “The city is witnessing one of the most violent days. All fronts are on fire,” Aleppo-based activist Baraa al-Halabi said.

Heavy clashes were reported Friday, with regime troops firing tank and mortar shells, and rebels using heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, said Aleppo activist Mohammed Saeed.

Amateur video broadcast by the Arab satellite TV station Al Jazeera showed a group of rebel fighters, identified as a single unit by their white headbands, marching through a rubble-strewn street. Others fired assault rifles from behind barricades of cinder blocks and sandbags.

Syria’s state-run news agency SANA confirmed battles in a number of Aleppo districts, reporting that dozens of rebels were killed. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the day’s death toll in the city at 23.

For the first time, rebel fighters entered one of Aleppo’s Kurdish areas, amid conflicting reports about whether some of the local residents fought alongside regime troops or stayed out of the battle.

Since the outbreak of the uprising against Assad in March 2011, Kurds have been split in their loyalties, some siding with the regime while others joined opposition protests.

Syria’s state TV said regime forces had help Friday from local residents, a claim also made by the Tawhid Brigade, the largest unit of rebel fighters in the city. However, Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Observatory, and Saeed said Kurdish fighters withdrew from the streets when the fighting began.

Kurds are Syria’s largest ethnic minority, making up at least 10 percent of the country’s 23 million people.