Syrian forces have engaged in fighting on different fronts near the northern city of Aleppo, said a group that monitors the war in Syria, as U.N.-mediated peace talks got underway in Geneva.
"Fierce fighting raged between regime troops and loyalist militia against IS (Islamic State) to the east of Khanasser," southeast of Aleppo city, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Separately, it was being reported that the army backed by Russian warplanes launched an assault north of Aleppo Thursday, threatening to block a vital rebel route into the city. At least 14 pro-government fighters and 20 militants were killed over the past 24 hours around the flashpoint area of Handarat.
“Aleppo is the key to war and peace in Syria...Every side in the war has a stake in Aleppo,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the observatory.
A senior official in Washington told the French news agency the United States is “very concerned” about reports of a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive near Aleppo.
The five-year-old conflict in Syria began as a peaceful revolt and spread in 2012 to Aleppo province, which borders Turkey.