Reuters International

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's army backed by Russian jets launched a fierce new assault on areas north of Aleppo on Thursday, rebels and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, threatening to block rebels' access to opposition-held areas of the city.

"The escalation started at night. The area is of great importance. If the regime advances, this will tighten the grip on Aleppo," Abdullah Othman, head of the politburo of the Levant Front rebel group, told Reuters, describing the fighting as "to-and-fro".

There was no word of the army's attack on state media, which earlier on Thursday cited a military source as saying the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front had bombarded residential areas of Aleppo, wounding a large number of civilians.

Rami Abdulrahman, director of the SOHR, a Britain-based group that tracks the war, said Handarat Camp, perched on a hilltop over a main road, was strategically important.

"Today the regime tried to go forward, they tried to take some areas ... from this area you can stop any rebel fighter from going outside Aleppo or inside it," he said.

(Reporting By Tom Perry and Angus McDowall; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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