A Syrian government offensive on rebel-held areas around Aleppo is threatening to derail UN efforts to persuade the warring parties to start peace talks.

Rebels said the new assault, backed by heavy Russian air strikes, was unprecedented and that the divided northern city might soon be encircled.

In an interview with the BBC, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to show the same unity of purpose and political commitment to resolving the conflict in Syria as it had with the Iranian nuclear issue.

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