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Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters greet civilians who were evacuated by the SDF from an Islamic State-controlled neighborhood of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, Aug. 12, 2016.

Syria, August16, 2016: On Monday, the Syrian government and rebel factions seeking to topple it poured reinforcements into the besieged northern city of Aleppo. Both sides encouraged for a decisive battle that diplomats are trying to avert. Monitors said as many as 2,000 pro-government fighters had arrived in the devastated city since late Sunday, prompting the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria’s civil war, to warn that “the great battle of Aleppo” is, in a word, “imminent.

Separately, the government-leaning Syrian daily Al-Watan reported Monday that the army had received “the necessary military reinforcements” to retake areas of the ravaged city from which it retreated under heavy rebel fire Saturday.


Rebel militia, including al-Qaida-linked fighters, captured the eastern part of the city in 2012 and have battled to a stalemate against government forces for control of the city since then.

Monitors say as many as a half-million civilians remained trapped in the city, and at least 230 civilians are known to have been killed there in the past two weeks.


A woman embraces a Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter after she was evacuated with others by the SDF from an Islamic State-controlled neighborhood of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, Aug. 12, 2016.

Russia, U.S. deal

The latest buildup comes as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking on Russian television, said Moscow and Washington are moving closer to a deal that could help ease the massive humanitarian crisis gripping the once vibrant city.

“Step by step we are nearing an arrangement … exclusively about Aleppo, that would allow us to find common ground” that could bring peace to the territory, Shoigu said Monday.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau, responding to Shoigu’s remarks, told reporters that U.S. and Russian envoys remain in close contact on the Aleppo crisis.

“We have seen the (Shoigu) reports and have nothing to announce,” she said.


This undated image posted online July 18, 2016, by supporters of the Islamic State militant group on an anonymous photo-sharing website, shows Islamic State fighters firing their weapons during clashes with the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces in Manbij, in Aleppo province, Syria.

IS ‘caliphate’

The multi-sided Syrian civil war pits the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies against a loosely knit coalition of rebels seeking to drive Assad from power. That coalition includes al-Qaida-linked fighters, making Western governments reluctant to send arms to the rebels.

The third major party to the five-year-old conflict, the extremist Islamic State, is seeking to establish an Islamist “caliphate” in large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq. The group has used widely circulated videos to show its fighters slaughtering hundreds of civilians as it seeks to expand its rule.

Separately, the Syria Democratic Forces, formed in 2015 with U.S. support, has focused on driving IS fighters from strongholds along the Turkish border.

The United Nations estimates as many as 400,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since fighting first erupted near Damascus in 2011. (VOA)

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NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has for the first time spotted signs of a planet transiting a star outside of the Milky Way galaxy, opening up a new avenue to search for exoplanets at greater distances than ever before.

The possible exoplanet -- or planets outside of our Solar System -- candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also called the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive profile, NASA said in a statement.

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The exoplanet candidate was spotted in a binary system called M51-ULS-1, located in M51. This binary system contains a black hole or neutron star orbiting a companion star with a mass about 20 times that of the Sun. The X-ray transit they found using Chandra data lasted about three hours, during which the X-ray emission decreased to zero.

Based on this and other information, the team estimates the exoplanet candidate in M51-ULS-1 would be roughly the size of Saturn and orbit the neutron star or black hole at about twice the distance of Saturn from the Sun.

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Named in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.

Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), Chandrasekhar was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. (IANS/JB)


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