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Syrian troops launch attack on Islamic State's Aleppo stronghold

Syrian government forces are besieging the last Islamic State (IS) stronghold in the northern province of Aleppo, weeks after launching an offensive to free the entire area from militants.

The push on Deir Hafer comes as US aircraft ferry Syrian Kurdish fighters and allies behind IS lines to spearhead a major ground assault on the strategic IS-held town of Tabqa in Raqqa province, which borders Aleppo.

That airlift marks a deepening US involvement in Syria's conflict ahead of a looming battle for the extremists' de facto capital, Raqqa.

The Syrian military said troops launched the Deir Hafer siege late on Wednesday after capturing nearby areas.

The opposition's UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops have now cut the road linking Deir Hafer with Raqqa province.

Meanwhile, preliminary meetings are under way in Geneva ahead of the formal start of a fifth round of UN-mediated peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups.

The UN's special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has released a statement noting that all parties have arrived for the intra-Syria talks.

His deputy, Ramzy Ramzy, began the day meeting the Syrian government delegation.

He is also expected to meet opposition delegates for informal consultations.

Mr de Mistura will formally start the talks on Friday after returning from discussions with regional and international stakeholders in the Syrian conflict.

The Geneva talks are expected to tackle the issues of governance, a new constitution, elections and terrorism.

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