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August 18, 2017

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Violence rages as peace envoy claims Syria toll 'staggering'

DAMASCUS--Syrian troops backed by artillery and warplanes fought rebels on multiple fronts Wednesday as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi described the death toll as "staggering" and destruction "catastrophic."

In the diplomatic arena, President Bashar al-Assad came under renewed fire from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said Syria had become a "terrorist state," and from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who told him to go.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets bombed rebel zones in the northern city of Aleppo before dawn while ground troops simultaneously unleashed a barrage of shells.

After the bombardment, the bodies of at least 19 people were found, among them seven children, the Britain-based watchdog said.

Aleppo has been the target of a five-week-old offensive by regime forces trying to dislodge rebels who took over swathes of the country's commercial capital in July.

Activists have reported relentless bombardments and food shortages in those neighborhoods still held by rebels, while an AFP reporter who was in Aleppo on Tuesday said life in the loyalist-controlled central area was relatively normal.

Rebels meanwhile on Wednesday attacked Hamdan military airport near Albu Kamal town in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Syrian Observatory said.

Having failed to persuade the international community to impose a no-fly zone over the country, the rebel Free Syrian Army has increasingly targeted airports used by regime attack helicopters and warplanes.

"Fighting has been going on for hours inside Hamdan airport between soldiers and rebels, who have taken over large sections of the site," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that at least six rebels died in the assault.

In Deir Ezzor city, two people were killed, one of them by sniper fire, the Observatory said.

Several blasts were heard in the Jubar district of the capital Damascus as it came under heavy bombardment, and explosions were also heard in the Yalda area just south of the city, the watchdog said.

In the central city of Homs, the rebel bastion of Khaldiyeh came under fierce mortar fire, and three children were killed in bombardment by regime forces of the Ariha area in Homs province, it added.

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