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UN envoy hopes formula to avoid ‘terrible battle’ in Aleppo

A general view shows rising smoke after strikes on Aleppo city

The U.N. envoy for Syria said on Saturday he hoped “some type of formula” could be found to avoid a “terrible battle” in Aleppo, where government forces and their allies are gaining ground in an attack aimed at taking back the whole city from rebels.

Staffan de Mistura, speaking at a Rome conference, indicated the battle for Aleppo would not last that much longer, saying “the fact is that Aleppo is not going to stay that long”.

“I was feeling it would be a terrible battle ending up by Christmas-New Year. I hope the battle will not take place, that there will be some type of formula,” he said.

Speaking during a panel discussion at the same conference, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she is convinced the fall of rebel-held areas of Aleppo to the government would not end the war in Syria.

“I’m convinced the fall of Aleppo will not end the war,” Mogherini said

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Moscow was ready for talks with the United States about a complete withdrawal of all rebels from eastern Aleppo.

Syrian government forces have captured 60 percent of the area previously held by rebels in eastern Aleppo after gaining new ground on the city’s eastern edge, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.

At least seven plumes of smoke were seen rising from rebel-held areas of the city on Saturday morning as the sound of jets could be heard overhead, a Reuters witness in the government-held western Aleppo said.

The Syrian army backed by allied militia has captured large areas of rebel-held territory in the last week in a ferocious campaign that threatens to deal a major defeat to the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

The Observatory and a Syrian military source said the army had built on its gains by capturing the Tariq al-Bab district late on Friday. A Turkey-based official with one of the rebel groups in Aleppo said government forces had advanced in the area but rebels were repelling them.

Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said the total area lost by the rebels was “easily 60 percent”.

The Observatory said at least three people were killed in an air strike on the al-Shaer neighbourhood. The civil defense rescue service in eastern Aleppo said a gathering of displaced people had been struck and put the death toll at more than six. The army denies targeting civilians.

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