BEIRUT – The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
Syrian President Bashar Assad says victory in the battle for Aleppo will be a "big gain" for his government but that it will not be the end of the war in Syria.
In an interview published on Thursday in the state-owned newspaper al-Watan, Assad described his forces' fight in Aleppo as one against terrorism and a conspiracy to destroy and divide Syria, allegedly led by Turkey.
Assad says that "liberating Aleppo from the terrorists deals a blow to the whole foundation of this project."
With Aleppo, Syria's largest city and former commercial heart, the capital of Damascus and Homs, the third largest city under his control, Assad says "terrorists" no longer hold any cards.
But he added, "to be realistic, it doesn't mean the end of the war."
"Even if we finish in Aleppo, we will carry on with the war against them."
A Russian deputy foreign minister says Russia is close to reaching a deal with the United States on a cease-fire for the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.
The Syrian government and its ally Russia have rejected previous calls for truce for the war-torn city, keeping up the military offensive that has squeezed and forced rebels to retreat in several areas.
Russian news agencies on Thursday quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying that Moscow and Washington are "close to reaching an understanding" on Aleppo but warned against "high expectations."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met on Wednesday in Germany but didn't release any statements.
Ryabkov said the Kerry-Lavrov talks were extensive but said a final deal has not been worked out yet.