Syrian government launches offensive south of Aleppo
Syrian troops have launched an offensive to retake a strategic hilltop village south of Aleppo from armed opposition groups, including al-Qaeda's local franchise.
Al-Manar TV, a pro-government media outlet, said the attack on Tel al-Ais was launched in full force on Tuesday after days of skirmishes in the area.
Al-Manar is run by Lebanon's Hizballah group, which is fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
The village overlooks a supply line connecting the capital, Damascus, to the northern city of Aleppo, parts of which have been held by opposition groups since 2012.
A coalition of factions captured Tel al-Ais earlier this month after heavy fighting, despite the ceasefire.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist-run monitoring group, says clashes are ongoing around Tel al-Ais and the nearby village of Khan Touman.
The offensive came as the United Nations peace envoy to Syria stressed the importance of the upcoming round of negotiations in Geneva.
Staffan de Mistura said the next round of talks, due to resume on Wednesday, would be vital because they would focus on a political transition for Syria, where the fate of President Bashar al-Assad remains a major sticking point.
He added that the talks are "crucially important" in finding a solution to Syria's brutal five-year war.
"We hope and plan to make [the talks] constructive and we plan to make them concrete," de Mistura told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
The talks are aimed at ending a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes since March 2011.
But while the opposition insists Assad can play no role in a future transitional government, the regime says voters should decide his fate. He last won an election with an unlikely 88 percent vote-share in 2014.
According to state news agency SANA, Muallem confirmed that regime negotiators were ready for the next round of talks, while de Mistura said the pair had also discussed humanitarian aid to besieged areas.
De Mistura said he had also discussed the shaky ceasefire with Muallem.
"We did raise and discuss the importance of protecting and maintaining and supporting the cessation of hostilities - which is fragile but is there - and we need to make sure that it continues to be sustained even when there are incidents to be contained," the envoy said.
The truce, which was brokered by the US and Russia, does not include areas where the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda's affiliate, the Nusra Front, are present.
Agencies contributed to this report