BEIRUT — With waves of air attacks and missile strikes, Russian forces launched a major new offensive Tuesday against rebel-held areas in Syria, as activists reported the first airstrikes in nearly a month on the battered and besieged eastern districts of Aleppo.
A Russian carrier group off Syria — ordered to the Mediterranean Sea by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a show of support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad — unleashed its considerable firepower, and government forces tightened their siege on rebel-held Aleppo.
Russia’s Defense Ministry denied involvement in the attacks on Aleppo, saying it has been nearly a month since Russian forces launched strikes on the city.
The divided northern city has become the epicenter of the battle for Syria, as one of the last urban bastions of factions opposing Assad. The government’s recapture of Aleppo could hasten the fall of remaining rebel strongholds across the country.
Russia’s assault kicked off just hours after Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, speaking by phone, agreed to combine efforts in Syria to defeat what Moscow has said is its enemy in the fight: “international terrorism and extremism.”
The Obama administration has been aiding what it sees as moderate opponents of Assad and has tried for months to broker a cease-fire in Aleppo, while continuing the fight against al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which in some places has been battling alongside the rebels. Russia describes all rebel groups as “terrorists,” and Trump’s blanket statements about joining Russia have been seen in Moscow as tacitly supporting this view.
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