Numerous casualties reported in bombing in Aleppo's Old City

Syrian opposition activists say a bomb placed in a tunnel beneath Aleppo's Old City caused numerous casualties

Syrian rebels detonated a large bomb in a tunnel beneath the Old City of Aleppo, killing and wounding numerous soldiers, according to residents and opposition activists.

Residents described a huge blast that reverberated across the city after the Syrian Front set off the bomb Tuesday under government soldiers stationed in the area, according to a Facebook page run by Aleppo-based activists. [Link in Arabic] 

The rebel group, formed last week from four factions, uploaded a video on social media Tuesday that showed a powerful explosion ripping through the historic quarter, casting a plume of smoke high into the sky that quickly enveloped the area. The post said fierce fighting followed between rebels and government soldiers.

The blast killed or wounded at least 20 soldiers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group based in Britain with a network of activists in the country.

State media condemned the attack, blaming "terrorists" for targeting the Old City, but did not list casualties.

The nearly four-year conflict has left as many as 200,000 dead, according to some estimates, and destroyed the country's infrastructure.

As rebels have increasingly resorted to tunnel bombs, the  subterranean warfare has taken a toll on Aleppo's famous Old City, damaging the 12th century Umayyad Mosque as well as the ancient market.

In May, a rebel group destroyed the Carlton Citadel Hotel that once housed an Ottoman-era hospital. Similar attacks followed in September.

Plans are underway for a Russian-brokered conference of all parties to the conflict. The proposed talks follow a series of meetings in Moscow between government officials and prominent opposition figures, including Moaz Khatib, former president of the Syrian National Coalition, a Western-backed opposition group.

Previously, United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura had proposed that all sides agree to a freeze in fighting across Aleppo to allow badly needed aid to be delivered and encourage negotiations for a potential political settlement.

But while government officials viewed the plan as worth considering, rebels dismissed it as a government ploy to redirect soldiers elsewhere in the country.

Bulos is a special correspondent.

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