DAMASCUS, June 26 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army has unleashed a "huge" military campaign against rebel-held areas in the northern province of Aleppo, advancing on four fronts at once, pro-government al-Watan daily reported on Sunday.
The military campaign was launched after midnight Friday, following airstrikes from the Syrian and Russian air forces, said the report.
According to the newspaper, Russia's air strikes on the rebels' positions in Aleppo and its northern countryside put pressure on the armed militant groups, forcing some of them to flee their positions, mainly in the Bani Zaid neighborhood east of Aleppo, where the rebels were targeting government-controlled areas in the western part of the city.
Al-Watan said the amount of firepower used was "unprecedented," citing local sources as describing the battles in Aleppo as "World War III."
The wide-scale offensive started after an aerial and ground bombardment on the rebel-held areas in the northern and northwestern part of the city, namely from Bani Zaid through the district of Lairamoun all the way to al-Zahra neighborhood.
"The military forces have broken through the defenses of the rebels, who have started sending distress calls and withdrawing from several areas with tens of their comrades dead," said the paper.
The battles continued until the government forces held several positions in the areas on Saturday morning.
In the northern countryside of Aleppo, the ground troops backed by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah and other allied fighters mounted an offensive in the al-Mallah farmlands and kept advancing toward Castello Road, the rebels' last supply route in northern Aleppo.
Aleppo, Syria's largest city and once an economic hub, has been a focal point for clashes between the Syrian army and the rebels as it is a strategically important area located on the borders with Turkey.
In the summer of 2012, thousands of armed militants stormed residential districts in Aleppo from its countryside, which struck the economic nerves of the Syrian government, which has repeatedly accused Turkey of supporting the rebels for undeclared interests in Aleppo.
The rebels captured several districts in eastern Aleppo city and repeatedly tried to expand their presence to the government-controlled areas in the west.
The rebels also besieged the western Aleppo districts after cutting the international road to Aleppo in 2014, although the Syrian army, with the help of Hezbollah, broke the siege and reopened the road later.
"Defending Aleppo is defending all of Syria and defending Damascus, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan," said Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, on Thursday.
Being the industrial capital of Syria and the largest city as well as bordering Turkey has made Aleppo an easy target for the international and regional powers supporting the rebels, analysts say.
Military experts say the initial aim of the battles in Aleppo is to lay a siege on the rebel-held areas and cut off their supply lines to force a surrender.
Another aim is to ensure the security of the government-controlled areas and prevent the militant groups from blocking the main road connecting Aleppo with the Syrian coast and other provinces in central and southern Syria.
The military campaign also aims to recapture areas in the northern and southern countryside of Aleppo in the face of Ankara's attempts to establish a safe zone in northern Syria.
Military experts told Xinhua the operation will dampen Turkey's efforts in backing the rebels in northern Syria, something the Syrian government has for long accused Turkey of doing.
Finally, the battles in Aleppo have paved the way for expanding the military campaign to the eastern province of Deir al-Zour and the northern province of al-Raqqa, both with heavy presence of the Islamic State (IS) group.
While the Syrian army has launched a broad offensive in Aleppo, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), dealt another heavy blow to IS by capturing areas in the southern part of the key city of Manbej in northwen Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.