Bat­tle for Aleppo rages ahead of UN show­down

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Syr­ian regime pressed its as­sault on rebel-held ar­eas of Aleppo yes­ter­day ahead of a show­down at the United Na­tions be­tween West­ern gov­ern­ments and its ally Rus­sia. Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Walter Stein­meier warned that the mount­ing ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow over the con­flict had cre­ated a sit­u­a­tion “more dan­ger­ous” than the Cold War. US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry made clear his anger at the Syr­ian army’s Rus­sian­backed on­slaught in the bat­tle­ground sec­ond city, say­ing that its bomb­ing of civil­ians could amount to a war crime.

The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil is to vote on two ri­val res­o­lu­tions on the fight­ing, one drafted by France call­ing for an end to air strikes and a sec­ond by Rus­sia that urges a cease­fire but makes no men­tion of halt­ing the bomb­ings. Moscow has said it will veto the French draft. Its ally Da­m­as­cus has made sig­nif­i­cant ad­vances in its re­newed two-week-old of­fen­sive in Aleppo, seiz­ing ter­ri­tory to the north and push­ing back the front line in the city cen­tre which had re­mained largely static since the rebels cap­tured east­ern dis­tricts in 2012.

But it has come at a heavy hu­man cost. Since the regime of­fen­sive be­gan on Sept 22 a few days after a US- and Rus­sian-bro­kered cease­fire col­lapsed, at least 290 peo­ple - mostly civil­ians - have been killed in rebel-held ar­eas, 57 them chil­dren, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights re­ported. And 50 civil­ians in­clud­ing nine chil­dren have been killed in rebel shelling on regime-held ar­eas of the city, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tain-based mon­i­tor­ing group, which re­lies on a net­work of sources on the ground.

It said govern­ment forces were mak­ing fur­ther ad­vances yes­ter­day ahead of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ses­sion. “The bat­tle is un­fold­ing in the cen­tre, par­tic­u­larly in the Bus­tan al-Basha district where the army is ad­vanc­ing, in Sheikh Said in the south, and on the north­ern out­skirts where the regime has taken the Uwaija neigh­bor­hood,” Ob­ser­va­tory chief Rami Ab­del Rahman told AFP. The mon­i­tor re­ported heavy air strikes on the rebel-held Far­dos and Sukari neigh­bor­hoods. An AFP cor­re­spon­dent said the raids mostly hit com­bat zones in the city.

Rus­sia is ex­pected to use its veto to block the French-drafted res­o­lu­tion backed by the United States and Bri­tain that also calls for a halt to all mil­i­tary flights over Aleppo. The coun­cil will then move to a sec­ond vote on the Rus­sian-drafted text. It “urges im­me­di­ate im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties, in par­tic­u­lar in Aleppo” and de­mands that all par­ties al­low de­liv­er­ies of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid”. Bri­tish am­bas­sador Matthew Rycroft dis­missed the Rus­sian draft as a po­lit­i­cal ploy. “This is a cyn­i­cal at­tempt to di­vert at­ten­tion away from the need to stop the bomb­ing of Aleppo,” he said.

Coun­cil mem­bers have been hold­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions for the past week on the French pro­posal for an end to the bomb­ing of Aleppo, ac­cess for aid de­liv­er­ies and a ban on mil­i­tary flights over the city. But Rus­sian am­bas­sador Vi­taly Churkin said the mea­sure was “hastily put to­gether” and sug­gested it was “not de­signed to make progress... but to cause a Rus­sian veto”. “I can­not pos­si­bly see how we can let this res­o­lu­tion pass,” he told re­porters when asked whether he would use the veto pow­ers Rus­sia wields as one of the coun­cil’s five per­ma­nent mem­bers.

A Se­cu­rity Coun­cil diplo­mat, who asked not to be named, said the Rus­sian “res­o­lu­tion on the sur­face looks like a lot of con­struc­tive lan­guage that draws from pre­vi­ous res­o­lu­tions and the French draft, but the key point is that it does not call for an end to the aerial bom­bard­ment”. He said the “vast ma­jor­ity” of coun­cil mem­bers want “an im­me­di­ate end to the in­dis­crim­i­nate bomb­ing of civil­ians in Aleppo.”

Kerry made clear his anger, declar­ing: “Th­ese are acts that beg for an ap­pro­pri­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tion - war crimes”. The Ger­man for­eign min­is­ter said that ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow were now worse than dur­ing the Cold War. “It’s a fal­lacy to think that this is like the Cold War,” Stein­meir said in an in­ter­view pub­lished by Bild news­pa­per yes­ter­day. “The cur­rent times are dif­fer­ent and more dan­ger­ous.” — AFP

NIZIP, Tur­key: US ac­tress Lind­say Lo­han gives pre­sents to Syr­ian refugee chil­dren as she vis­its a Turk­ish govern­ment-run Syr­ian refugee camp near Tur­key’s bor­der with Syria yes­ter­day. The Anadolu Agency said Lo­han toured so­cial fa­cil­i­ties and a preschool be­fore giv­ing refugee chil­dren there pre­sents. — AP

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