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In Aleppo, Tens of Thousands Flee Advancing Government Troops

UNITED NATIONS � More than 50,000 civilians have fled the rebel-held districts in eastern Aleppo during the past four days as government forces continue their effort to retake the city, according to a Syrian monitor group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government artillery fire killed at least 26 civilians early Wednesday in eastern Aleppo, forcing more people to flee the city.

The U.N. Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting on the recent increase in hostilities. Britain and France called for the session, which Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized as a "propaganda campaign."

The Security Council is expected to be briefed Wednesday by a U.N. humanitarian official and U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he is optimistic about the meeting's ability to bring peace to Aleppo.

"I would urge all those with responsibility for that, both the Assad regime and their supporters in Russia ... to think of what they can do to bring peace, stop the bombardment, stop the killing of innocent civilians and get to the negotiating table," he told AFP.

Dire prediction

The meeting follows a dire prediction made Tuesday by de Mistura about the city's future.

"Clearly, I cannot deny - this is a military acceleration and I can't tell you how long eastern Aleppo will last," de Mistura said during remarks to the European Parliament. "There is a constant increase of movement on the military side."

The increase in fighting intensity forced many civilians to flee their homes empty-handed, a situation U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien called alarming and chilling.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights almost 300 civilians, including 33 children, have been killed in eastern Aleppo since the government began bombarding the city earlier this month.

A leading Syrian opposition group, the National Coalition asked the United Nations to "take immediate, definitive steps to protect civilians in Aleppo and stop the barbaric offensive against them."

Eastern Aleppo has been under government siege for more than four months; the army began heavily bombarding the city two weeks ago and late Monday took control of a key district.

Aleppo has been a major focus of Syrian military efforts with the backing of Russian airstrikes.

In Washington, the State Department has expressed its "deep outrage" at the latest bombing of Aleppo, holding Moscow responsible.

Previous efforts to halt the fighting have brought only short-term agreements and no real progress toward a lasting end to the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011.

Source: Voice of America