In Syria Battle rages near Aleppo, air onslaught continues

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the battle is ongoing. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk at a military complex, after they recaptured areas in southwestern Aleppo that rebels had seized last month, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on September 5, 2016.

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Syrian government and rebel forces battled for control of high ground on the Aleppo outskirts on Saturday as warplanes bombed the city's opposition-held east relentlessly in a Russian-backed offensive that has left Washington's Syria policy in tatters.

In their first major ground advance of the offensive, the army and its militia allies seized control of the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp, a few kilometres north of Aleppo, only for rebels to counterattack a few hours later.

"The fighters are waging ferocious battles because it is a battle of existence," a senior rebel official told Reuters.

Rebels said they had recovered some or all of Handarat.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the battle is ongoing. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

The assault on Aleppo, where more than 250,000 civilians are trapped in a besieged opposition sector, could be the biggest battle yet in a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million from their homes.

Residents say air strikes on eastern Aleppo since the offensive was announced on Thursday have been more intense than ever, using more powerful bombs. Scores of people have been killed in the last two days.

Two weeks after Moscow and Washington announced a ceasefire, President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies appear to have launched a campaign for a decisive battlefield victory that has buried any hope for diplomacy.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who hammered out the truce over the course of months of intensive diplomacy, was left pleading in vain this week with Russia to halt air strikes.

Rebel officials said air strikes on Saturday hit at least four areas of the opposition-held east, and they believe the strikes are mostly being carried out by Russian warplanes. Video of the blast sites shows huge craters several metres wide and deep.

"There are planes in the sky now," Ammar al Selmo, the head of the Civil Defence rescue service in the opposition-held east, told Reuters from Aleppo on Saturday morning.

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The group draws on ambulance workers and volunteers who dig survivors and the dead out of the rubble, often with their bare hands. It says several of its own centres have been destroyed in the latest bombing. "Our teams are responding but are not enough to cover this amount of catastrophe," Selmo said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 45 people, among them 10 children, were killed in eastern Aleppo on Saturday. Selmo put the two-day death toll at more than 200.

The army says it is targeting only militants.

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