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August 21, 2017

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Syria reinforces Aleppo; UN sends observers home

DAMASCUS--The Syrian army sent reinforcements to Aleppo on Wednesday to join the intensifying battle for the country's second city, as the United Nations pulled out half of its troubled observer mission.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said he had stressed to Syrian officials in morning talks that without a significant reduction in violence, the remaining 150 observers would leave on the expiry of the "final" 30-day extension of the mission's mandate agreed by the Security Council on July 20.

Russia meanwhile ramped up its criticism of Western policy, accusing Washington of justifying terror by failing to condemn a July 18 bombing that killed four top Syrian security officials, and accusing the European Union of imposing a unilateral blockade on its Soviet-era ally.

Helicopter gunships strafed several neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, causing deaths and injuries, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Clashes raged in the central Al-Jamaliya neighbourhood, close to the local headquarters of the ruling Baath party. In Kalasseh, in the south of the city, rebels set fire to a police station, the Observatory said.

Fighter jets overflew the city, breaking the sound barrier but not carrying out bombing raids, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

A "large number" of troops have been moved from the northwestern province of Idlib to join the fighting in Aleppo, a rebel spokesman told AFP via Skype.

Free Syrian Army Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi said he believed the reinforcements were being sent because of the intensity of clashes in Aleppo, where several districts were "liberated" on Monday.

"There are clashes right now in Aleppo, so fierce that many of their troops are running away, while dozens of others are defecting on the spot," Oqaidi said. "Their morale is very low."

The Britain-based Observatory also reported clashes in the district of Al-Hajar al-Aswad in Damascus, one of the last remaining rebel bastions in the capital after 10 days of fighting.

Regime forces used helicopter gunships and heavy machine gun fire to pound the embattled southern neighborhood, as they tried to "reclaim" it, the Observatory said.

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