MOSCOW (Reuters) - There are no plans to storm the Syrian city of Aleppo despite thousands of Al-Nusra militants massing around the city, the Russian military general staff, which is providing air support to the Syrian army, said on Monday.
Fighting between rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and forces loyal to Damascus has flared around Aleppo in recent weeks, threatening a fragile ceasefire in the run-up to the a new round of peace talks on the conflict.
Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Russian General Staff's main operations command, said around 9,500 Al-Nusra fighters had gathered to the south-west and north of Aleppo and were planning a large-scale offensive to cut the city off from the Syrian capital of Damascus.
"All actions of the Syrian military and Russian air force are directed at disrupting the plans of Jabhat al-Nusra. No storming of the city of Aleppo is planned," he said.
Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaki said on Sunday the Russian air force and Syrian military were preparing a joint operation to take full control of Aleppo from rebel forces.
Half of the city, Syria's largest before the war, has been in rebel hands for years.
Syrian media reported a large build-up of troops and equipment by the Syrian army and its allies around Aleppo on Monday, with the pro-Damascus al-Mayadeen TV station reporting it had seen tanks and rocket launchers heading towards the city.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Andrew Osborn)