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Hezbollah chief pledges more fighters for 'Syria's greatest battle' in Aleppo

Hassan Nasrallah says battle for Aleppo is battle for Syria, as he makes rare admission 26 of his soldiers have died this month
Hassan Nasrallah says Hezbollah is duty-bound to defend Aleppo (AFP)

The head of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement said on Friday that the military offensive against the city of Aleppo was the "greatest battle" in Syria, and he pledged to dispatch more fighters to support government forces.

In remarks broadcast over the Shia group's al-Manar television, Hassan Nasrallah said his party would "increase our presence in Aleppo... because the real, strategic, greatest battle is in Aleppo and the surrounding area".

Nasrallah said: "We are facing a new wave, or a new phase, of military operations in Syria that will be fought in the north, specifically in the area of Aleppo."

He also announced that 26 Hezbollah fighters had been killed in the offensive this month, in a rare admission of casualties for the group.

"Fighting in defence of Aleppo is in defence of the rest of Syria, of Damascus. It's in defence of Lebanon and Iraq and Jordan," Nasrallah said via videolink.

"This is why it is our duty to be in Aleppo, and we were, and we will stay in Aleppo."

Nasrallah spoke at a commemoration event for Mustafa Badreddine, a Hezbollah commander killed in an explosion on 12 May near Damascus international airport.

Hezbollah has intervened in Syria's complex war on behalf of the government of President Bashar al-Assad and has sent thousands of fighters to Damascus, Aleppo and Homs provinces, among others.

Aleppo city - once Syria's economic hub - in particular has experienced a surge in violence over the past two months amid clashes between government forces in the west and rebel groups in the east.

Government forces, backed by Hezbollah and by Russian warplanes, are seeking to close off the last rebel route out of the city.

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