BEIRUT -- Syrian rebels pushed into a strategic neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo after days of heavy clashes, seizing control of at least part of the hilltop district and killing a pro-government cleric captured in the fighting, activists and state media said Saturday.

There were conflicting reports about the scale of the advance into the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood by rebel forces. But the gains marked the biggest shift in the front lines in the embattled city in months.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city and a former commercial hub, has been a key battleground in the country's civil war since rebels launched an offensive there in July.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, said rebels took only the eastern part of the neighborhood, and reported heavy fighting there yesterday.

Syria's state news agency SANA said government troops "eliminated scores of terrorists" in other parts of Aleppo mainly in the neighborhoods of Sheikh Said and Masaken Hanano. SANA did not mention fighting in Sheikh Maqsoud.

Sheikh Maqsoud, which is predominantly inhabited by minority Kurds, is considered one of the most strategic locations in the city because it overlooks much of Aleppo.

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