Nearly 2,000 killed in Aleppo airstrikes this year
DAMASCUS // Nearly 2,000 civilians, more than a quarter of them children, have been killed this year in a massive Syrian air offensive on rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, a monitoring said on Friday.
The staggering toll from barrel bombings and other air attacks comes just ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election, which is expected to return Bashar Al Assad to power for a third seven-year term.
From the beginning of January until Thursday, air raids killed 1,963 civilians in Aleppo, including 567 children and 283 women, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Control of Aleppo city, Syria’s former commercial hub, has been divided since rebels seeking to depose Mr Al Assad launched an offensive there in July 2012. Government aircraft have been targeting opposition-held areas there as well as nearby towns and villages.
The offensive began in mid-December and intensified in January, with helicopters raining down barrels bombs – cylindrical metal containers packed with explosives and scrap metal – causing a massive exodus.
“In Aleppo, the regime’s idea is to empty the city of its residents, to cause the maximum destruction possible,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory, which compiles information on the civil war in Syria from sources inside the country.
Mr Abdel Rahman said hundreds of fighters from Lebanon’s Hizbollah group were participating in the regime offensive on the city.
Also in Aleppo province, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) rebel group kidnapped nearly 200 Kurd residents
“Fighters from ISIL on Thursday kidnapped at least 193 Kurdish civilians aged from 17 to 70 years from the village of Qabasin in Aleppo province,” the Observatory said.
Mr Abdel Rahman said the reasons behind their kidnapping were “unknown, but this kind of act takes place repeatedly in areas under ISIL control”.
Rooted in Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamist militants first surfaced in the Syrian war in late spring last year, and have been opposed by Syria’s Kurdish militias as soon as they started pushing to take over resource-rich, majority Kurdish areas dotted around the country’s north and northeast.
The Observatory also reported on Friday that thousands of people had fled government-held cities after opposition fighters warned they would attack during next week’s presidential election to disrupt the vote.
Civilians left the government-held north-western city of Idlib after the Islamic Council, a military and civil body in rebel-held areas, ordered them to leave by midnight on Friday.
The city, besieged by rebels for more than two years, has witnessed frequent clashes.
A activist based near Idlib said thousands of people had fled, although he said he did not expect a wide attack on Tuesday.
“I think it is only psychological warfare, although some rebels are warning they will turn it into a bloody day in Idlib,” he said.
Another acticist, based in the nearby town of Saraqeb, said about 4,000 people left on Thursday alone. He added that they were mostly fleeing to villages and towns in the surrounding province that carries the same name, as well as areas close to the border with Turkey.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the three-year civil war in Syria, which has caused more than 160,000 deaths, according to the Observatory, and forced millions from their homes and deprived millions more food and medical supplies.
Attempts to provide citizens with international aid have been hampered by the fighting and controls imposed by both the government and rebels groups.
Australia’s ambasador to the United Nations has said that his country, along with Luxembourg and Jordan, planned to circulate a UN Security Council resolution to authorise the delivery of humanitarian aid into Syria through four border crossings without approval from the Syrian government.
Gary Quinlan told reporters after a council briefing on Thursday on the humanitarian crisis that 90 per cent of UN aid currently “goes to government-held areas” and Syrians in opposition-controlled zones were not getting food and medicine.
Diplomats familiar with the draft said it is under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which means it could be enforced militarily. It would authorise humanitarian access at two crossings from Turkey, one in Jordan and one from Iraq to help more than 2 million people who have not received aid.
All 15 council members voted for a resolution in February demanding that all sides in the Syrian conflict allow immediate access for aid. UN officials have said the resolution has failed to change the dire humanitarian situation.
Currently, all UN aid must go through Damascus – a practice which the UN humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, has repeatedly criticised.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press
Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM