Aleppo fight­ing spread­ing amid claims of gas at­tack

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

ALEPPO: Syria’s regime and rebels were locked in fierce fight­ing yes­ter­day on Aleppo’s western edges, where 41 civil­ians have been killed in an op­po­si­tion of­fen­sive to break a dev­as­tat­ing govern­ment siege. Rebels have un­leashed car bombs and salvos of rock­ets and shells to break through govern­ment lines and reach the 250,000 peo­ple liv­ing in the city’s east. Syr­ian state me­dia yes­ter­day ac­cused them of fir­ing shells con­tain­ing toxic gas into govern­ment-con­trolled dis­tricts. Rebels de­nied that, and said govern­ment forces had fired poi­son gas on an­other front­line.

State news agency SANA re­ported that 35 peo­ple were suf­fer­ing from short­ness of breath, numb­ness, and mus­cle spasms af­ter “toxic gases” hit the front­line district of Dahiyet al-As­sad and regime-held Ham­daniyeh. The head of Aleppo Univer­sity Hospi­tal, Ibrahim Ha­did, told state tele­vi­sion that “36 peo­ple, in­clud­ing civil­ians and com­bat­ants, were wounded af­ter in­hal­ing toxic chlo­rine gas re­leased by ter­ror­ists”. The rebels said the army had shelled rebel-held Rashideen district with chlo­rine and shared videos pur­port­edly show­ing vic­tims with res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems.

Syria’s sec­ond city, Aleppo has been rav­aged by some of the heav­i­est fight­ing of the coun­try’s five-year war which has killed

more than 300,000 peo­ple. In­tense fight­ing yes­ter­day rocked western dis­tricts, bat­tered by hun­dreds of rebel rock­ets and ar­tillery fire, ac­cord­ing to Rami Ab­del Rah­man, head of the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights. Two days of heavy rebel bom­bard­ment have killed 41 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 16 chil­dren, and wounded 250, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tain-based Ob­ser­va­tory. In a new toll yes­ter­day, it said fight­ing had also killed 55 regime and al­lied fight­ers, as well as 64 Syr­ian rebels.

The civil­ian toll was slammed by UN peace en­voy to Syria Staffan de Mis­tura, whose of­fice said he was “ap­palled and shocked by the high num­ber of rock­ets” fired by rebels. “Those who ar­gue that this is meant to re­lieve the siege of east­ern Aleppo should be re­minded that noth­ing jus­ti­fies the use of dis­pro­por­tion­ate and in­dis­crim­i­nate weapons, in­clud­ing heavy ones, on civil­ian ar­eas and it could amount to war crimes,” his of­fice said in a state­ment. Fight­ing lasted all night and into yes­ter­day, with air strikes and ar­tillery fire along the western bat­tle­fronts heard even in the east­ern dis­tricts, an AFP cor­re­spon­dent there said.

Plumes of smoke could be seen ris­ing from the city. About 1,500 rebels have massed on a 15-km front along the western edges of Aleppo since Fri­day, scor­ing quick gains in the Dahiyet al-As­sad district but strug­gling to push east since then. “The ad­vance will be from Dahiyet al-As­sad to­wards Ham­daniyeh,” said Yasser Al-Youssef of the Noured­din Al-Zinki rebel fac­tion. Ham­daniyeh is a regime-held district di­rectly ad­ja­cent to op­po­si­tion­con­trolled east­ern neigh­bor­hoods.

An AFP cor­re­spon­dent saw about a dozen civil­ians, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, flee­ing Dahiyet al-As­sad yes­ter­day. They brought be­long­ings stuffed into plas­tic bags, hoist­ing them on top of their heads or drag­ging them along the dusty road.

A pro-regime mil­i­tary source told AFP that the rebel as­sault was “mas­sive and co­or­di­nated” but in­sisted it was un­able to break into any neigh­bor­hoods be­yond Dahiyet al-As­sad. “They’re us­ing Grad mis­siles and car bombs and are sup­ported by for­eign fight­ers in their ranks,” he said. Those en­gaged in the as­sault in­clude Aleppo rebels and re­in­force­ments from Idlib prov­ince to the west, among them the ji­hadist Fateh Al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front af­ter break­ing ties with Al-Qaeda.

Aleppo’s front­line runs through the heart of the city, di­vid­ing rebels in the east from govern­ment forces in the west. Much of the once-bustling eco­nomic hub has been re­duced to rub­ble by ar­tillery and air bom­bard­ment, in­clud­ing bar­rel bombs - crude un­guided ex­plo­sive de­vices that also kill in­dis­crim­i­nately. In late Septem­ber, govern­ment troops launched an as­sault to re­cap­ture all of the east­ern rebel-con­trolled ter­ri­tory, backed by air strikes from Rus­sia, which be­gan an air war in 2015 to sup­port Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad’s forces.

That on­slaught spurred mas­sive in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism of both Moscow and Da­m­as­cus. Last week, Rus­sia im­ple­mented a three-day “hu­man­i­tar­ian pause” in­tended to al­low civil­ians and sur­ren­der­ing rebels to leave Aleppo’s east, but few did so. Moscow says it will con­tinue a halt on its air strikes over Aleppo, in place since Oct 18. — Agen­cies

ALEPPO: A rebel fighter from the Jaish al-Fatah (or Army of Con­quest) bri­gade fires mor­tar shells to­wards western govern­ment-con­trolled dis­tricts yes­ter­day from the south­west­ern front­line neigh­bor­hood of Dahiyet al-As­sad. — AFP

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