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Syrian Troops Advance Near Aleppo      09/24 08:32

   BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian government forces captured a rebel-held area on the 
edge of Aleppo on Saturday, tightening their siege on opposition-held 
neighborhoods in the northern city as an ongoing wave of airstrikes destroyed 
more buildings.

   The new government push came as the U.N. said that nearly 2 million people 
in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and onetime commercial center, are without 
running water following an escalation in fighting over the past few days.

   Government forces captured the rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp of 
Handarat as airstrikes pounded rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, 
killing at least 25 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory 
for Human Rights. The Local Coordination Committees, another monitoring group, 
said 49 were killed on Saturday alone.

   The Observatory said the death toll in Aleppo is expected to rise since many 
wounded people are in critical condition and rescue workers are still digging 
through the rubble.

   Residents say the latest bombardment is the worst they've seen since rebels 
captured parts of the city in 2012.

   An unnamed Syrian military official was quoted by state media on Friday as 
saying that airstrikes and shelling in Aleppo would continue for an extended 
period and "include a ground offensive" into rebel-held areas.

   The fall of Handarat to Syrian troops allied with pro-government Palestinian 
fighters pushes insurgents further away from Castello Road, a main artery 
leading to rebel-held parts of the city, which is now controlled by the 
government.

   "Breaking the siege through the Castello road has become very difficult," 
Yassin Abu Raed, an opposition activist based in Aleppo province, told The 
Associated Press.

   An unnamed Syrian military official quoted by state TV confirmed the capture 
of Handarat, adding that many insurgents were killed. He said experts are 
removing explosives from the area. The camp, which is almost empty and largely 
destroyed, has witnessed intense fighting and bombardment in recent years. It 
has changed hands in the past between government forces and insurgents.

   The push came as diplomats in New York have failed to salvage a cease-fire 
that lasted nearly a week, before giving way to what residents and activists 
say is a new level of violence. The bombing, which began in earnest late 
Wednesday, has been unprecedented, targeting residential areas, infrastructure 
and civil defense centers.

   A Western diplomat speaking to a group of journalists in Beirut said that in 
New York, the impression from meeting with the Russians was that there is no 
new offensive, but there are been some mixed messages from the ground. He said 
there had been reports of advances on the ground and some beefing up of the 
government and allied forces there.

   "I will say it seems highly improbable that there will be quick defeat of 
eastern Aleppo," the diplomat said, referring to the rebel-held districts. "The 
only way to take it is by such monstrous atrocities that it would resonate for 
generations."

   "It would be absolutely the stuff of myth and history," he said.

   Living conditions in the already-battered eastern districts have meanwhile 
grown even worse.

   Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria, said intense attacks damaged 
the Bab al-Nairab station, which supplies water to some 250,000 people in the 
rebel-held east.

   Singer said that in retaliation, the Suleiman al-Halabi pumping station, 
also located in the rebel-held east, was switched off --- cutting water to 1.5 
million people in government-held western parts of the city.

   "Depriving children of water puts them at risk of catastrophic outbreaks of 
water-borne diseases," Singer warned in her statement, released late Friday.  


(KA)

 
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