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September, 29, 2016

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Syria launches Aleppo push as truce plan flounders

NEW YORK -- A defiant Syrian regime launched a new assault on rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Thursday as the United States and Russia failed to revive a floundering peace plan.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gathered two dozen international envoys at talks in New York to address the crisis.

But the meeting of the International Syria Support Group broke up after Russia refused US demands that it promise to immediately ground the Syrian regime's air force.

Kerry said he was ready to meet the Russians again on Friday to see if there are any means to revive the truce that failed this week, but diplomats were pessimistic.

"The only way to achieve that is if the ones that have the air power in that part of the conflict simply stop using it," Kerry told reporters after the talks.

"Not for one day or two, but for as long as possible so that everyone sees that they are serious."

UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura called it a "long, painful and disappointing meeting" but insisted that Washington and Moscow are serious about the truce.

He blamed unnamed other parties among the delegates for "undermining" the US-Russian initiative and added "they are still trying, so declaring it dead would be wrong."

But he had a less rosy view of events on the ground.

"Meanwhile, what is happening in Aleppo is under attack and everyone is going back to the conflict," he said.

"The next few hours -- days at maximum -- are crucial for making it or breaking it."

In Damascus, the Syrian army urged residents of Aleppo to stay away "from the positions of terrorists" as it launched its new offensive in defiance of the truce.

London-based watchdog the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described the latest assault as "a large-scale land offensive supported by Russian air strikes."

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