ALEPPO: Terrified residents fled a new wave of air strikes on rebel-held areas of Syria’s divided city of Aleppo yesterday, as key regime backer Russia rejected calls to rein in its ally. Aleppo 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. US Secretary of State John Kerry was to travel Sunday to Geneva 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”.
A new round of UN-backed peace talks is set to start on May 10 in Geneva. In Aleppo’s rebel-held east, dozens of civilians left the battered Bustan al-Qasr district early yesterday, an AFP correspondent said. “The situation has become unbearable,” Abu Mohammed said as he prepared to flee with his wife and five children. “Everything is paralyzed.”
Russia said that it would not ask Damascus to halt 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. 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.
Watching the Sky
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 yesterday, the civil defence 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 neighborhoods. “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 western government-held neighborhoods killed 3 civilians including a child, and blamed Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and its allies. A pro-government newspaper said Thursday 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 east Aleppo.
Hospitals have also been bombed in nine days of escalating violence in Aleppo. A total of four medical facilities were hit Friday on both sides of the front line, the International Committee of the Red Cross said. 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 1:00 am yesterday (2200 GMT Friday) in a “freeze” set to last for 24 hours in Damascus and Eastern Ghouta, and 72 hours in Latakia.
Aid for Besieged Towns
Humanitarian convoys carrying food and medicine meanwhile entered the besieged rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, yesterday, the Red Cross said. At the same time, trucks entered the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya, southwest of Aleppo. Madaya became infamous in late 2015 after dozens died of starvation there. In the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, a couple and their two daughters were killed in strikes by unidentified aircraft on a village held by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, the Observatory said.
And in northeastern 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 IS has claimed previous bombings in the mainly Kurdish city. 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, Saturday accused the regime of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Aleppo. Human Rights Watch also said the air strikes on medical facilities in the city “may amount to war crimes”. Qatar called for an emergency Arab League meeting, and Saudi Arabia condemned the regime strikes. – AFP