Civil­ians de­spair as army ad­vances in rebel Aleppo

US ser­vice mem­ber, Turk­ish sol­dier killed

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ALEPPO:

The Syr­ian army ad­vanced in Aleppo yes­ter­day, pound­ing the rebel-held east with strikes that killed dozens and added to the de­spair for more than 250,000 civil­ians un­der siege. The US mil­i­tary mean­while an­nounced its first com­bat loss in Syria, say­ing a ser­vice mem­ber had been killed by a bomb dur­ing an of­fen­sive against the Is­lamic State group. Ten days into the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s re­newed bid to re­cap­ture all of bat­tered sec­ond city Aleppo, regime bom­bard­ment has killed nearly 190 civil­ians and left res­i­dents des­per­ate for respite.

The regime is hop­ing to score its most im­por­tant vic­tory yet of the five-year civil war, deal­ing a po­ten­tially de­ci­sive blow to the rebels by re­cap­tur­ing eastern neigh­bor­hoods they over­ran in 2012. Civil­ians in the east have been un­der siege by the army since July, with food and fuel sup­plies dwin­dling and in­ter­na­tional aid com­pletely ex­hausted. On Thurs­day alone, 32 civil­ians were killed in air strikes and ar­tillery fire on eastern neigh­bor­hoods, among them five chil­dren, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said. “I’m ter­ri­fied by the army’s ad­vance and the in­creas­ing bom­bard­ment,” said Abu Raed, a fa­ther-of-four liv­ing in Far­dos neigh­bor­hood. “There’s no safe place for me and my fam­ily.”

Res­cuers Pull Boy from Rub­ble

The Ob­ser­va­tory said the army now con­trolled more than 60 per­cent of the strate­gic Masaken Hanano district and was push­ing on. Masaken Hanano is east Aleppo’s largest district and its cap­ture would cut the re­bel­held sec­tor in two. The ad­vances have been ac­com­pa­nied by re­lent­less air and ar­tillery bom­bard­ment, with med­i­cal staff in the east ac­cus­ing the army of drop­ping bar­rel bombs filled with chlo­rine gas. Da­m­as­cus and its ally Moscow have re­peat­edly de­nied any il­le­gal, mil­i­tary use of the chem­i­cal.

Re­tal­ia­tory rocket fire by the rebels has killed at least 18 civil­ians in the gov­ern­men­theld west, 10 of them chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to the Ob­ser­va­tory. On Thurs­day night, res­cue work­ers in sev­eral parts of the east bat­tled to ex­tri­cate civil­ians trapped un­der the rub­ble of bombed build­ings. In Bab al-Nayrab, an AFP cam­era­man saw res­cuers bat­tle for more than an hour to pull out a se­ri­ously wounded boy. The lower part of his body was trapped and the back of his head badly gashed. He cried out “fa­ther, fa­ther,” as the res­cuers used pick­axes to break up the con­crete sur­round­ing him.

The des­per­ate con­di­tions have prompted some civil­ians to flee. In re­cent days, five fam­i­lies have crossed to Sheikh Maq­sud, a Kur­dish-con­trolled en­clave be­tween the gov­ern­ment-held west and rebel-held east, the Ob­ser­va­tory said. Da­m­as­cus says res­i­dents and sur­ren­der­ing fight­ers are free to leave, and ac­cuses the rebels of pre­vent­ing civil­ians from do­ing so and us­ing them as “hu­man shields.”

‘Un­bear­able Cir­cum­stances’

On the ground, res­i­dents ex­pressed de­spair. “Liv­ing un­der these cir­cum­stances is un­bear­able,” said 43-year-old Mo­hammed Haj Hus­sein, in Tariq al-Bab district. “There’s no work, there’s no food, and the bomb­ing is in­ces­sant... I want to get out of here by any means pos­si­ble.” In Bab al-Nayrab district, Abu Hus­sein said: “I don’t know what the UN is wait­ing for. Why don’t they at least evac­u­ate the chil­dren and women?” The UN says it has a plan to de­liver aid to Aleppo and evac­u­ate the sick and wounded, which rebel factions have ap­proved.

But Da­m­as­cus has yet to agree, and ad­di­tional guar­an­tees are needed from Moscow, UN of­fi­cials say. On Thurs­day, the head of the UN-backed hu­man­i­tar­ian task­force for Syria, Jan Ege­land, warned there was no plan B to help civil­ians in east Aleppo. “In many ways plan B is that peo­ple starve, and can we al­low that to hap­pen? No we can­not,” he said.

Deaths

Mean­while, a Turk­ish sol­dier was killed and five wounded in clashes with IS in north­ern Syria, the mil­i­tary said yes­ter­day, as Turk­ish-backed rebels pressed an of­fen­sive to take the city of al-Bab from the rad­i­cal group. The lat­est ca­su­al­ties bring the num­ber of Turk­ish soldiers killed in Syria to 17 since Ankara launched a cross-border in­cur­sion on Aug 24 to try to push Is­lamic State and Kur­dish fight­ers from the border, ac­cord­ing to Turk­ish me­dia.

The Turk­ish mil­i­tary said four Syr­ian rebels had been killed and 25 wounded in clashes in the 24 hours to yes­ter­day morn­ing. Turk­ish fighter jets were con­tin­u­ing to strike Is­lamic State tar­gets near al-Bab, it said. The ca­su­al­ties came a day af­ter three Turk­ish soldiers were killed in a sus­pected Syr­ian air strike, the first such Turk­ish deaths at the hands of Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces. Prime Min­is­ter Bi­nali Yildirim said Ankara would re­tal­i­ate.

Fur­ther east, in Raqqa prov­ince, where a US-backed al­liance of Kur­dish and Arab fight­ers is bat­tling IS, Wash­ing­ton suf­fered its first com­bat loss in Syria, the US-led coali­tion an­nounced. It said the ser­vice mem­ber died on Thurs­day from wounds caused by an im­pro­vised bomb near the town of Ayn Issa. US spe­cial forces are on the ground in the area sup­port­ing an of­fen­sive to re­take the city of Raqqa, the ji­hadists’ de facto Syr­ian cap­i­tal. The death came as Amer­i­cans cel­e­brated the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. —Agen­cies

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