Army ad­vances in Aleppo, IS wed­ding attack kills 34

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ALEPPO: Syr­ian regime forces ad­vanced against rebels dur­ing in­tense street bat­tles in the heart of Aleppo yes­ter­day, af­ter the United States aban­doned talks with Rus­sia aimed at re­viv­ing a cease­fire deal. Washington said its de­ci­sion did not mean it was “aban­don­ing the pur­suit of peace”, as Moscow called for “po­lit­i­cal wis­dom” while an­nounc­ing the de­ploy­ment of its S-300 mis­sile sys­tem to the port of Tar­tous. And the UN rights chief called for ac­tion to halt the “ghastly avalanche of vi­o­lence” un­fold­ing in Syria’s sec­ond city, which is reel­ing from some of the most bru­tal fight­ing in the five-year con­flict.

The Syr­ian army an­nounced a ma­jor Rus­sian-backed mil­i­tary push nearly two weeks ago to cap­ture the rebel-held eastern

half of Aleppo, once the coun­try’s com­mer­cial hub. Yes­ter­day, loy­al­ists seized high-rise build­ings from rebels in the city cen­ter, push­ing north to­wards other op­po­si­tion dis­tricts. The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said regime forces were “grad­u­ally ad­vanc­ing” af­ter street bat­tles on the front line di­vid­ing the rebel-held east from the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled west.

“They are fo­cus­ing on the tall build­ings, which were once gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ings, be­cause they can mon­i­tor en­tire streets and neigh­bor­hoods from there,” said Ob­ser­va­tory head Rami Ab­del Rah­man. State news agency SANA re­ported rebel shelling on the gov­ern­ment-held west, in­clud­ing on the Aleppo Univer­sity cam­pus, killed six peo­ple.

More than 300,000 peo­ple have been killed since the con­flict erupted in March 2011, and the lat­est at­tempt at se­cur­ing a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to the war has fallen apart. Washington an­nounced late Mon­day that it would sus­pend joint ef­forts to re­in­state a na­tion­wide truce, ac­cus­ing Moscow of abet­ting strong­man Bashar al-As­sad’s as­sault on Aleppo. “Ev­ery­body’s pa­tience with Rus­sia has run out,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told re­porters.

A US of­fi­cial said US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry is “laser-fo­cused” on find­ing a diplo­matic so­lu­tion, but his talks with Rus­sian coun­ter­part Sergei Lavrov on the cri­sis were over. Kerry said yes­ter­day the de­ci­sion was one “we did not come to lightly”. “We are not aban­don­ing the pur­suit of peace, we are not go­ing to leave the mul­ti­lat­eral field, we are go­ing to con­tinue to try to find a way for­ward in or­der to end this war,” he added, of­fer­ing fierce crit­i­cism of Moscow. “Peo­ple who are se­ri­ous about mak­ing peace be­have dif­fer­ently from the way Rus­sia has cho­sen to be­have,” he said.

The Krem­lin mean­while said it “would like to hope for the pres­ence of po­lit­i­cal wis­dom and the con­tin­u­a­tion of ex­changes on par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive is­sues that are nec­es­sary for main­tain­ing peace and se­cu­rity”. And Lavrov said Moscow was “not shirk­ing our re­spon­si­bil­ity but con­sider that the cri­sis can only be re­solved col­lec­tively.” Rus­sia’s de­fense min­istry said later it had sent an S-300 mis­sile sys­tem to its naval fa­cil­ity in the Syr­ian city of Tar­tous, a mea­sure it says is meant to bol­ster its se­cu­rity. Rus­sia and the US will keep a com­mu­ni­ca­tions chan­nel open solely to en­sure their sep­a­rate anti-ji­hadist bomb­ing cam­paigns do not get in each other’s way.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hus­sein de­cried the “ghastly avalanche of vi­o­lence and de­struc­tion” in east Aleppo, say­ing 100 chil­dren had been killed there in the past 10 days. He urged the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to in­tro­duce a limit on its mem­bers’ veto power, to pre­vent coun­tries like Rus­sia block­ing the re­fer­ral of Syria’s con­flict to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in The Hague. On Mon­day, the largest hospi­tal in the rebel-held side of Aleppo was com­pletely de­stroyed in an aerial attack, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Amer­i­can Med­i­cal So­ci­ety, which sup­ports the fa­cil­ity. Only five hos­pi­tals re­main op­er­a­tional for the es­ti­mated 250,000 peo­ple liv­ing un­der a crip­pling gov­ern­ment siege in east Aleppo. Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit told an emer­gency meet­ing that the sit­u­a­tion in Aleppo was “car­nage,” call­ing for an “ur­gent cease­fire”.

In north­east Syria, the toll in a sui­cide attack at a wed­ding rose to 34 peo­ple, the re­gion’s Kur­dish gov­ern­ment said. The Is­lamic State group claimed the attack, say­ing one of its mem­bers had fired on a gath­er­ing near Hasakeh city be­fore blow­ing him­self up, though it did not men­tion a wed­ding. The bomb­ing left rows of seats cov­ered in blood at the wed­ding hall in Hasakeh prov­ince. “I was tak­ing pic­tures of the party, and all of a sud­den I felt a huge ex­plo­sion,” said wed­ding pho­tog­ra­pher Walid Mo­ham­mad. “I saw so many peo­ple die - small kids, old peo­ple.”

Rows of seats in the hall that hosted the party were still cov­ered in blood yes­ter­day morn­ing when an AFP pho­tog­ra­pher vis­ited the scene. Bro­ken tiles lit­tered the floor and torn fabric hung from the ceil­ing. A thick layer of dust cov­ered a sound mixer and key­board. “As the bride and groom were ex­chang­ing their vows I saw a man wear­ing a thick black jacket pass be­side me,” a wit­ness named Ah­mad said. “I thought he looked strange and a few sec­onds later there was an enor­mous ex­plo­sion. Peo­ple had fallen on the ground and I saw bod­ies torn to bits.”

Both the groom and bride were safe, but the groom’s fa­ther and brother were killed in the attack, a rel­a­tive told AFP. “The groom’s wounds are light, and he and his new wife are staying at a rel­a­tive’s home. He doesn’t want to see any­one,” he said. “They are re­ally shaken up by this.” Mo­hamed Kas­sar, a wed­ding singer, strug­gled to hold back tears as he de­scribed the after­math of the attack. “I’m still in shock. They were chil­dren and women,” he said.

At a lo­cal hospi­tal, the injured crowded the halls, with a woman in a sparkly gold party dress grip­ping the rails of a stair­case, her face pale. The groom, Za­radesht Mustafa Fa­timi, hails from a prom­i­nent fam­ily deeply in­volved in the au­ton­o­mous ad­min­is­tra­tion run by Kur­dish fac­tions in Syria’s north. Ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial from the au­ton­o­mous ad­min­is­tra­tion, Fa­timi works for a lo­cal Kur­dish party. The Ob­ser­va­tory said he is also a mem­ber of the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, an Arab-Kur­dish coali­tion bat­tling IS in north­ern Syria.— Agen­cies

ALEPPO: A Syr­ian civil de­fense vol­un­teer holds the body of a child af­ter he was pulled from the rub­ble fol­low­ing a gov­ern­ment air strike on the rebel-held neigh­bor­hood of Karm Ho­mad in this north­ern city yes­ter­day. — AFP

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