Regime jets pound rebel Aleppo

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ALEPPO: Syria’s gov­ern­ment pounded re­bel­held Aleppo with air strikes and ar­tillery fire yes­ter­day, killing 27 peo­ple and prompt­ing Wash­ing­ton to con­demn the “heinous ac­tions” of Da­m­as­cus and its ally Rus­sia. UN of­fi­cials said they were “ap­palled” by es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence and urged ac­cess to east Aleppo, where more than 250,000 peo­ple have been un­der siege for nearly four months. Since it be­gan on Tues­day, the as­sault on the rebel-held east of Aleppo has dam­aged hospi­tals, forced schools to close, and killed nearly 100 civil­ians, ac­cord­ing to a mon­i­tor.

An AFP cor­re­spon­dent de­scribed re­lent­less bom­bard­ment with air strikes, mor­tar rounds and bar­rel bombs slam­ming into res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods where res­i­dents cow­ered at home. “It is a cat­a­strophic day in be­sieged Aleppo with un­prece­dented bom­bard­ment with ev­ery type of weapon,” a mem­ber of the White Hel­mets res­cue group said in a video posted on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Face­book page.

US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Su­san Rice said Wash­ing­ton con­demned “in the strong­est terms these hor­rific at­tacks against med­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid work­ers”. “There is no ex­cuse for these heinous ac­tions,” she said in a state­ment. “The Syr­ian regime and its al­lies, Rus­sia in par­tic­u­lar, bears re­spon­si­bly for the im­me­di­ate and long-term con­se­quences these ac­tions have caused in Syria and beyond.”

Moscow says it is not in­volved in the cur­rent as­sault on Aleppo, con­cen­trat­ing its fire­power on op­po­si­tion and ji­hadist forces in neigh­bor­ing Idlib in­stead. But Da­m­as­cus and its al­lies have made clear they want rebels ex­pelled from east­ern Aleppo, which fell from regime con­trol in mid-2012.

Once Syria’s eco­nomic pow­er­house, Aleppo has been rav­aged by the war that has killed more than 300,000 peo­ple since it be­gan with anti-gov­ern­ment protests in March 2011. No aid has en­tered east Aleppo since gov­ern­ment forces sur­rounded it in July, and res­i­dents re­port short­ages of food and fuel, as well as lengthy power out­ages and wa­ter short­ages. Two top UN of­fi­cials said they were “ex­tremely sad­dened and ap­palled by the re­cent es­ca­la­tion in fight­ing in sev­eral parts of Syria.”

Hu­man­i­tar­ian co­or­di­na­tor for Syria Ali AlZa’atari and regional hu­man­i­tar­ian co­or­di­na­tor Kevin Kennedy also said they had shared a plan to de­liver aid, and evac­u­ate the sick and wounded from east Aleppo. “It is im­per­a­tive all par­ties agree to the plan and al­low us to se­cure im­me­di­ate, safe and unim­peded ac­cess to pro­vide re­lief to those most in need,” they said. The re­lent­less bom­bard­ment forced schools in east Aleppo, many of which al­ready op­er­ate from base­ments be­cause of gov­ern­ment at­tacks, to close Satur­day and Sun­day “for the safety of stu­dents and teach­ers, af­ter the bar­barous aerial strikes”.

Hospi­tals and res­cue fa­cil­i­ties have been par­tic­u­larly af­fected, with shelling de­stroy­ing one of the last med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties in the east on Fri­day. Staff were also forced to evac­u­ate the east’s only chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal be­cause of re­peated at­tacks, re­mov­ing ba­bies from in­cu­ba­tors to trans­fer them. “This is a dark day for east Aleppo,” said Teresa San­cristo­val, emer­gency co­or­di­na­tor for the Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders (MSF) char­ity.

“The sever­ity of the bomb­ing has in­flicted huge dam­age on the few hospi­tals work­ing around the clock to pro­vide med­i­cal care.”

A White Hel­mets cen­tre in the Bab Al-Nayrab dis­trict was also de­stroyed in an air strike on Fri­day, and res­cuers have strug­gled to cope with the pace with of the bomb­ing. “We have no more (body) bags,” said one res­cue worker in an­other video posted yes­ter­day by the group. The Ob­ser­va­tory said at least 27 civil­ians were killed in east Aleppo yes­ter­day, with the toll likely to rise be­cause of the num­ber of se­ri­ously wounded. The deaths brought the death toll since Tues­day to 92, with state media say­ing two peo­ple were also killed in rebel fire on the gov­ern­ment-held west of Aleppo yes­ter­day.

The as­sault on rebel-held Aleppo has ended a pe­riod of rel­a­tive respite af­ter Rus­sia halted its strikes and or­ga­nized a series of brief truces to en­cour­age res­i­dents and sur­ren­der­ing rebels to leave. Syria ex­pert Thomas Pier­ret said regime forces “in­tended to com­bine air strikes with famine re­sult­ing from the siege to get rebels to sur­ren­der”.

ALEPPO: A Syr­ian civil de­fense vol­un­teer, known as the White Hel­mets, car­ries an in­jured man yes­ter­day fol­low­ing an air strike on the rebel-held neigh­bor­hood of Bab Al-Nayrab. — AFP

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