The Latest: Monitor says 500 sites hit by air in offensive

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The Latest on fighting in Syria and Thursday's Syria aid conference (all times local):


9:00 a.m.

A monitoring group says more than 500 targets were hit from the air by Syrian and presumably also Russian warplanes during this week's government offensive which captured strategic areas north of the country's largest city, Aleppo.

Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday that the bombing campaign was one of the most intensive in months. Russia began launching airstrikes late last year to back its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Observatory is a group of opposition activists monitoring the five-year-old Syria conflict.

As part of the recent offensive, pro-government forces on Wednesday broke a three-year-old rebel siege of two Shiite Muslim towns near Aleppo. On Thursday, residents embraced and cheered pro-government fighters entering the towns.


7:00 a.m.

Leaders and diplomats from 70 countries are meeting in London to pledge billions to help millions of Syrians displaced by war — and try to slow the chaotic exodus of refugees to Europe.

Thursday's conference aims to agree plans for economic and educational projects to assist 4.6 million Syrians who have sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and other neighboring countries.

The U.N. and regional countries say they need $9 billion in assistance for 2016.

Conference co-host Britain has pledged 1.2 billion pounds ($1.75 billion) in new aid by 2020, and Secretary of State John Kerry is due to announce a big U.S. commitment later.

Organizers believe finding jobs and schools for refugees in the Middle East can help increase regional stability and keep displaced Syrians from fleeing to Europe.