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Jabhat al-Nusra plans large-scale offensive near Aleppo — Russian General Staff

April 11, 2016, 18:57 UTC+3 MOSCOW MOSCOW April, 11. /TASS

About 10,000 Jabhat al-Nusra militants are concentrated near Syria's Aleppo

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© Al-Nusra Front via AP

MOSCOW, April 11. /TASS/. The Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group (outlawed in Russia) in Syria is planning a major offensive with the aim to cut the road between Aleppo and Damascus, the chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, Sergey Rudskoy, has said.

"We have reliable information that a large-scale offensive operation is being planned with the aim to cut the road connecting Aleppo and Damascus," Rudskoy told a news briefing on Monday.

He said Jabhat al-Nusra (outlawed in Russia) was conducting active combat operations in the south and north of Aleppo Province. Its gangs have seized El-Es and Zerba. Also, Rudskoy said, in the north of Aleppo militants were pushing ahead with attacks near Sheikh Maksoud and al-Zagra. The offensive against Khandrat is continuing.

"Syria’s northern areas may be besieged again, if these operations by terrorists are not upset. The Syrian army and Russian aircraft have not focused on disrupting these plans of Jabhat al-Nusra gangs. There are no plans for storming Aleppo," Rudskoy said.

He said that Russia strictly complied with the commitments assumed under an agreement with the United States on the termination of combat operations in Syria.

"The Russian aerospace group does not attack armed groups that have put their signatures to the ceasefire agreement," he said.

According to the official, about 10,000 Jabhat al-Nusra militants are concentrated near Aleppo.

"According to the information we have, about 8,000 Jabhat al-Nusra militants have concentrated to the southwest of Aleppo; up to 1,500 militants have gathered to the north of the city," Rudskoi said.

He added that several militant groups with a total strength of 200 fighters had arrived in the populated localities of Tell-Hadiya and Banes over the past 24 hours.

"Two detachments with a total strength of more than 100 men have arrived from the al-Khalifa settlement in the Muheim-Handrat village. They have one tank and 22 rough-terrain vehicles with large-caliber machine-guns mounted on top at their disposal," the general said.

Some 100 explosion-hazardous objects defused in Palmyra in 24 hours

Specialists from the International Anti-Mine Center of the Russian Armed Forces have defused in Syrian Palmyra in the past 24 hours more than 100 explosion-hazardous objects, including a radio-controlled improvised explosive device (IED) with a yield of 120 kilograms, the general went on to say. 

"Alone in the past 24 hours, Russian field engineers have checked for explosives six kilometers of roads, more than 20 hectares of terrain and three buildings in the historical part of Palmyra," Rudskoy said. "A total of 117 explosive hazards and self-made explosive devices have been defused, including a radio-controlled IED with a yield of 120 kilograms," he said.

In Al-Qaratayn, Homs Province, Syrian sappers cleared of explosive devices 40 streets and the houses overlooking them, three schools, the building of a local post office, the building of the city administration, a water pump station as well as 17 kilometers of roads.

"Sixty roadside bombs that gunmen planted when retreating have been defused," Rudskoy said.

61 Syrian settlements join reconciliation process

Rudskoy poined out that  the number of settlements having joined the reconciliation process and signed ceasefire agreements with the Syrian authorities has risen to 61.

"The number of settlements that have joined the reconciliation process and signed relevant agreements with the Syrian authorities has risen to 61. A total of 47 statements of intention on cessation of hostilities have been signed with the leaders of armed groups of moderate opposition," he said.

Ceasefire generally observed

According to the general, the ceasefire has been generally observed in most of Syria’s provinces despite occasional violations.

"The process of reconciliation in Syria which is proceeding within the framework of the joint Russia-U.S. statement has been generally observed. Despite occasional violations, no combat operations are conducted in most of Syria’s provinces," he said, adding his words are not applicable to Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra.

"Thus, civil administrations have already been appointed, police and security agencies have been created in recently liberated Palmyra and Al-Qaratayn. Works are underway in those cities to resume electricity and water supplies. People are coming back to these cities," Rudskoi said.

A ceasefire regime brokered by Russia and the United States on February 22 officially came into effect in Syria at midnight Damascus time on February 27. This does not cover terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, both outlawed in Russia, and other groups recognized as terrorist by the United Nations Security Council.

An hour before the ceasefire came into force, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in support cessation of hostilities in Syria. The document was initiated by Russia and the United States and won support from all the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council.

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