Syrian government forces beat back rebel offensive in Aleppo

Syrian government forces regained control of positions in western Aleppo, beating back a strong rebel offensive as international efforts intensified to impose a comprehensive truce in the war-ravaged country, a monitoring group said.

Fighting died down on Wednesday morning after the clashes on the city's western outskirts, said Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The precise death toll from the clashes was not clear but stood in the dozens, he added.

In the regime-held western sector of the city, the Observatory reported at least three people were killed and an unspecified number of civilians injured in shelling by rebels on Wednesday.

The Syrian government had excluded Aleppo from a temporary ceasefire that started Saturday in the capital Damascus, nearby Eastern Ghouta and the coastal area of Latakia.

Government forces are moving to impose a siege on the rebel-held east of the city, cutting it off from the western countryside which is also held by rebels.

The mounting civilian death toll in the divided city, nearing 300 since an escalation of hostilities on April 22, has led to widespread calls for the ceasefire to be extended to Aleppo.

The fighting in Aleppo will be the focus of separate meetings due to be held later Wednesday at the UN Security Council in New York and the Cairo-based Arab League.

The Security Council session will provide an opportunity to "shine a spotlight" on the dire situation, said Matthew Rycroft, British ambassador to the UN, who requested the meeting.

"I can see it as impossible for the [peace] talks to resume while that sickening aerial bombardment and other attacks on Aleppo continue," Rycroft said.

UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is seeking support from the United States and Russia to revive an overarching cessation of violence, which went into effect in most of Syria in late February but has been frequently breached.

France, one of the Security Council's five permanent members, said that it expected the council to "exercise the necessary pressure on the Syrian regime so that it ceases to bombard civilian populations."

Meanwhile, Germany was hosting a meeting Wednesday aimed at putting Syria's peace process back on track after the surge in fighting in recent weeks.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier joined de Mistura, Syrian opposition official Riad Hijab and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault for talks near Berlin's Lake Tegel. The officials were set to give a joint statement at 1600 GMT.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of “repercussions” for breaching the ceasefire mediated by Washington and Moscow in February.

“If Assad’s strategy is to somehow think he’s going to just carve out Aleppo and carve out a section of the country, I got news for you and for him: This war doesn’t end,” Kerry said in Washington. 

“It is simply physically impossible for Assad to just carve out an area and pretend that he’s somehow going to make it safe while the underlying issues are unresolved in this war.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic State extremist group gained partial control over large areas of the al-Shaar gas fields in Syria's central desert, the Observatory reported.

The extremists have lost ground in the desert recently, with government forces recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra at the end of March.

Islamic State briefly held the al-Shaar fields in 2014. The extremist group also controls most of eastern Syria, where the country's oil fields lie.

Last update: Wed, 04/05/2016 - 18:12

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