Fresh airstrikes pound Syria’s Aleppo after war of words in UN
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Fresh airstrikes pound Syria’s Aleppo after war of words in UN

Activists report dwindling supplies as intense Russian-backed regime campaign continues to bombard city, killing scores; Syrian foreign minister says ceasefire not dead

A Syrian man walks past a bus set ablaze following a reported air strike in the rebel-held Salaheddin district of Aleppo on September 25, 2016. (AFP/Ameer Alhalbi)
A Syrian man walks past a bus set ablaze following a reported air strike in the rebel-held Salaheddin district of Aleppo on September 25, 2016. (AFP/Ameer Alhalbi)

ALEPPO, Syria — Warplanes again pounded rebel-held areas of Syria’s Aleppo on Monday as residents warned of increasing shortages of food and medicine, a day after Western powers accused Syrian and Russia of possible war crimes but failed to take decisive action at the UN.

An AFP correspondent in the battered city said a wave of strikes hit areas of the opposition-controlled east of the city from dawn, in particular the Al-Mashhad and Sayf al-Dawla districts, sparking large fires.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said “dozens of raids” had hit districts of east Aleppo after midnight on Sunday, with many wounded and at least two civilians killed.

It was the fourth day of intense air raids on the city since a defiant Syrian regime launched a new assault to retake all of Aleppo following the collapse of a short-lived ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States.

But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Monday the ceasefire agreement was still viable and his administration was prepared to take part in a unity government.

In an interview broadcast on the Mayadeen TV channel Monday, al-Moallem accused the US, Britain, and France of convening a UN Security Council meeting a day earlier in order to support “terrorists” inside Syria.

But he said ongoing communications between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meant a truce agreement brokered two weeks ago is “not dead.”

Syria’s military declared the ceasefire ended one week ago, days before launching the fresh assault on Aleppo.

A Syrian man carries the body of an infant retrieved from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. (AFP PHOTO/THAER MOHAMMED)
A Syrian man carries the body of an infant retrieved from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike on September 23, 2016, on the al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. (AFP PHOTO/THAER MOHAMMED)

The Observatory said Monday that at least 128 people, nearly all civilians, had been killed in Syrian and Russian raids on eastern Aleppo since late Thursday.

Among the dead were 20 children and nine women, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

At least 36 civilians, including 11 children and five women, were killed in raids targeting rural areas of Aleppo province, he said.

A medical source in rebel-held Aleppo said hospitals were struggling to deal with a huge number of casualties as supplies dwindled.

Wounded men receiving treatment at a local clinic after airstrikes hit in Aleppo, Syria, September 24, 2016. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Wounded men receiving treatment at a local clinic after airstrikes hit in Aleppo, Syria, September 24, 2016. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

“Hospitals that are still in service are under a lot of pressure due to the significant number of wounded in recent days, and the major shortage of blood,” the source told AFP.

“Because of this, serious injuries are requiring immediate amputations,” he said.

With Aleppo back under siege since regime forces again fully surrounded the city in early September, residents were having to deal with food shortages and skyrocketing prices as well as the increased violence.

The price of a portion of bread had risen to 500 Syrian pounds ($1) from 350 Syrian pounds last week, the AFP correspondent said, and food was becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Several charity kitchens that had distributed food in eastern districts were also no longer operating due to the danger of airstrikes.

Civilians watch as a tractor clears the rubble following Syrian government forces airstrikes in the rebel held neighborhood of Tariq a-Bab in Aleppo on September 24, 2016. (AFP/Thaer Mohammed)
Civilians watch as a tractor clears the rubble following Syrian government forces airstrikes in the rebel held neighborhood of Tariq a-Bab in Aleppo on September 24, 2016. (AFP/Thaer Mohammed)

Aleppo, divided since mid-2012 between government control in the west and rebel control in the east, has seen some of its worst fighting in years over the last week, raising widespread international concern.

The UN Security Council met in an emergency session on Sunday to address the fighting, with Britain, France and the United States demanding Russia rein its Syrian ally.

The US accused Moscow of “barbarism” over the worsening carnage in Aleppo.

“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism. It is barbarism,” US Ambassador Samantha Power said at the Sunday session.

“It is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes,” said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, adding that the high-tech weaponry had inflicted “a new hell” on war-weary Syrians.

An overall view of a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting on the situation in Syria, at the United Nations September 25, 2016 in New York. ( AFP PHOTO / Bryan R. Smith)
An overall view of a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting on the situation in Syria, at the United Nations September 25, 2016 in New York. ( AFP PHOTO / Bryan R. Smith)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also warned the use of advanced weaponry against civilians could amount to war crimes, and French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the atrocities must not go unpunished.

Britain, France and the United States had called for the urgent talks after days of intense diplomatic efforts to salvage a US-Russian ceasefire deal ended in failure at the weekend.

Ban called on world powers to “work harder for an end to the nightmare” in Syria that has left more than 300,000 people dead and driven millions from their homes.

To protest the attacks in Aleppo, the US, French and British ambassadors walked out of the Security Council chamber as the Syrian ambassador delivered his remarks.

Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin conceded that the surge in violence over the past days meant that “bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now.”

Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes hit in Aleppo, Syria, September 24, 2016. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes hit in Aleppo, Syria, September 24, 2016. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Churkin again laid blame for the failed diplomacy with the United States, accusing Washington of being unable to convince armed opposition groups that it backs on the ground to distance themselves from the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and abide by the ceasefire.

A US-Russian ceasefire deal that would have charted a way forward towards peace talks was broken by the “sabotage by the moderate opposition,” he asserted.

Churkin however said that reviving the ceasefire was still a goal that Moscow could pursue if it was part of a “collective” effort on all sides.

Despite the recriminations, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said a “tiny window of opportunity … still exists” for Russia and the United States to help Syria.

He appealed for renewed efforts to allow Syria to “step away from the brink of more years of bloody conflict which risks to become even worse.”

AP contributed to this report

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