The Latest: Russia announces major offensive in Syria

AP News
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Posted: Nov 15, 2016 6:46 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

1:45 p.m.

Russia's defense minister says the air force has launched a major operation on the Syrian provinces of Idlib and Homs, while Syrian activists report the resumption of airstrikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Sergei Shoigu said in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the operation involves aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which made a much-publicized trip from Russia to Syria's shores last month. He says Russian warplanes will target ammunition depots, training camps and armaments factories in both provinces.

He did not immediately mention Aleppo, where activists reported airstrikes for the first time since Moscow declared a halt to them three weeks ago.

Russia is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has been carrying out airstrikes in support of his forces for more than a year.

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1:15 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes have hit rebel-held eastern Aleppo for the first time in three weeks, fearing it could signal the start of a new government offensive in the northern city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Tuesday's airstrikes struck three neighborhoods. It had no immediate word on casualties.

Activist Baraa al-Halaby, who is based in eastern Aleppo, says via text messages that warplanes are firing missiles and helicopters are dropping barrel bombs on the eastern part of Syria's largest city.

In mid-October, Russia said it would halt airstrikes to allow rebels and supporters to leave eastern Aleppo. The rebels refused to take up the offer and the United Nations failed to negotiate the delivery of aid into the besieged area.

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12:30 p.m.

Two U.N. agencies say food production in Syria has shrunk to "an all-time low," threatening to drive more people from their homes after 5-1/2 years of war.

The World Food Program and the Food and Agricultural Organization say factors like rising prices, poor weather, general instability and the lack of fertilizer and seeds could force some farmers to stop producing.

A joint report released Tuesday says the planting area in the 2015-2016 season was the smallest ever in zones controlled by the government, ethnic Kurds and the armed opposition. WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said information was lacking about areas controlled by the radical Islamic State group.

FAO regional representative Abdessalam Ould Ahmed said 80 percent of households lack food or money to buy it.