Slaughter continues in Aleppo
Aleppo // Terrified residents fled a new wave of air strikes on rebel-held areas of Syria’s divided city of Aleppo on Saturday, as key regime backer Russia rejected calls to rein in its ally.
The northern city, where at least 246 civilians have died in shelling, rocket fire and air strikes since April 22, was left out of a new temporary US-Russian brokered truce that appeared to be holding in the regime stronghold of Latakia as well as Damascus and the nearby rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta.
The UAE on Saturday condemned the air srikes, which have struck residential areas and medical facilities, including a hospital supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres where at least 50 people including doctors were killed, according to the medical charity.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the targeting by the government forces of hospitals and essential medical services was “immoral”.
It also called on the UN Security Council to urge the Syrian government to abide by the ceasefire and facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid to besieged areas.
Saudi Arabia also condemned the regime strikes, while Qatar has called for an emergency Arab League meeting.
The US secretary of state John Kerry is to travel to Geneva on Sunday in a show of support for the truce and will meet the UN envoy to Syria and the Jordanian and Saudi foreign ministers, the state department said.
His talks will focus on “efforts to reaffirm the cessation of hostilities nationwide in Syria”, it said.
A new round of UN-backed peace talks, which were launched after a cessation of hostilities began on February 27, is set to start on May 10 in Geneva. The truce had largely held until the fighting in Aleppo began on April 22.
In Aleppo’s rebel-held east, dozens of civilians left the battered Bustan Al Qasr district early on Saturday.
“The situation has become unbearable,” said Abu Mohammed as he prepared to flee with his wife and five children. “Everything is paralysed.”
Russia said that it would not ask Damascus to halt the air raids on Aleppo.
“No, we are not going to put pressure on [Damascus] because one must understand that the situation in Aleppo is part of this fight against the terrorist threat,” deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said.
Washington has appealed to Moscow to keep president Bashar Al Assad’s regime in check.
At least 246 civilians have died in shelling, rocket fire and air strikes in both sides of the city since April 22, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
At least 10 civilians died in rebel-controlled areas on Saturday, the civil defence said.
A total of four medical facilities were hit on Friday on both sides of the front line, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
The few people out on the streets watched the sky anxiously for regime aircraft, running for shelter when one launched a new raid.
The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground, reported 28 air strikes on eastern neighbourhoods.
“The regime wants to push residents to flee Aleppo before a military offensive,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The Sana state news agency said shelling of government-held neighbourhoods in the west of the city killed 3 civilians including a child, and blamed Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front and its allies.
Once Syria’s economic hub, Aleppo and its surrounding countryside have suffered some of the worst fighting in a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.
A pro-government newspaper said on Thursday that the army was preparing a major campaign to recapture all of Aleppo and the surrounding province.
Some families have fled to safer districts, while others left by the dangerous Castello road, the only route out of near-besieged eastern Aleppo.
A raid on Wednesday hit a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross as well as nearby housing, killing 30 people and sparking an international outcry.
On other fronts, fighting halted at 1am on Saturday in a “freeze” set to last for 24 hours in Damascus and Eastern Ghouta, and 72 hours in Latakia.
Humanitarian convoys carrying food and medicine meanwhile entered the besieged rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani, north-west of Damascus, on Saturday, the Red Cross said.
At the same time, trucks entered the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya, south-west of Aleppo.
Madaya became infamous late last year after it emerged that dozens of people had died of starvation there.
In the eastern province of Deir Ezzour, a couple and their two daughters were killed in strikes by unidentified aircraft on a village held by ISIL, the Observatory said.
And in north-eastern Syria, a suicide bomber killed five Kurdish policemen at a checkpoint in the city of Qamishli, police said.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack, but ISIL has claimed previous bombings in the mainly Kurdish city, where conrol is divided between Kurds and the Syrian regime.
The violence in Aleppo has severely tested a February 27 truce between the regime and non-jihadist rebels intended to pave the way to an end to the five-year conflict.
Anas Al Abdeh, head of the Istanbul-based opposition National Coalition, accused the regime of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Aleppo.
* Agence France-Presse and Wam
Published: April 30, 2016 04:00 AM