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Syria: Fire damages Aleppo's ancient souk (VIDEO)

Heavy fighting started a major fire that destroyed part of Aleppo's souk — ancient markets with narrow passages lined with thousands of shops.

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Free Syria Army fighters man a position in the city of Aleppo on Sept. 16, 2012. More than 27,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule erupted in March last year, the Britain-based Observatory estimates. The United Nations puts the toll at 20,000. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

Fierce fighting in Aleppo has started a major fire that destroyed part of the Syrian city's medieval souk, or market, according to reports.

Aleppo's souk — comprised of narrow passages lined with thousands of shops — were once a tourist attraction, and the old city of Aleppo is a UNESCO world heritage site. But Aleppo has been badly battered by fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels.

The fire started Friday night and was still burning Saturday morning, the Associated Press reported, with activists saying the fire had destroyed hundreds of shops.

UNESCO's director told the AP that the damage to the old city was a "big loss and a tragedy."

The BBC reported Saturday that Aleppo has seen intense fighting in the past day, with state media saying the rebels there have suffered heavy losses.

More from GlobalPost: Life and death in Aleppo (PHOTOS)

Rebels had announced a major offensive Friday to take the city, but seem to lack the firepower and number of fighters, the BBC said.

Also on Friday, the United Nations' rights body extended the mandate for an investigation into war crimes in Syria as part of its response to the 18-month crisis in the country.

At least 30,000 people have been killed, and tens of thousands forced from their homes since the fighting in Syria began, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last week.

More from GlobalPost: On Location: Life and Death in Aleppo (VIDEO)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/120929/syria-fighting-aleppo-threatens-medieval-souks