Syria rebels in de­fense of key Aleppo district

‘Rebels put up fe­ro­cious re­sis­tance’

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Rebels put up fierce re­sis­tance yes­ter­day in a key district of Syria’s bat­tered Aleppo, where a regime of­fen­sive has left bod­ies in the streets and sparked global out­rage. The gov­ern­ment as­sault on the north­ern city has spurred a mass ex­o­dus of tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents from the op­po­si­tion-held east and prompted fresh calls by Rus­sia for aid cor­ri­dors. Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad’s forces cap­tured north­east Aleppo this week and were fo­cused on seiz­ing Sheikh Saeed, a large district on the city’s south­east edges. But anti-gov­ern­ment fight­ers fought back strongly there overnight, rolling back re­cent gov­ern­ment gains, the Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said.

“The regime and al­lied fight­ers... wanted to take this neigh­bor­hood at any cost, be­cause cap­tur­ing it would al­low them to tar­get all re­main­ing rebel-held dis­tricts,” said Ob­ser­va­tory head Rami Ab­del Rah­man. “But rebels put up fe­ro­cious re­sis­tance, be­cause they knew they would be trapped if Sheikh Saeed fell,” he added. Ab­del Rah­man said op­po­si­tion forces now once again con­trolled at least 70 per­cent of the neigh­bor­hood.

Sheikh Saeed bor­ders the last re­main­ing sec­tions of Aleppo still in rebel handsa col­lec­tion of densely pop­u­lated res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods where thou­sands have sought refuge from ad­vanc­ing regime forces. In prepa­ra­tion for streetby-street fight­ing in these dis­tricts, hun­dreds of fight­ers from Syria’s elite Repub­li­can Guard and Fourth Di­vi­sion ar­rived in Aleppo yes­ter­day, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said four civil­ians were killed in rebel rocket fire on gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas, bring­ing to 59 the civil­ian toll in the city’s west. More than 300 civil­ians, in­clud­ing dozens of chil­dren, have been killed in east Aleppo since the gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive be­gan on Novem­ber 15, ac­cord­ing to the Ob­ser­va­tory. In­ter­mit­tent clashes yes­ter­day rocked a block of res­i­den­tial build­ings on Aleppo’s eastern edges, where ad­vanc­ing regime forces have sought to se­cure the road to­wards the air­port.

AFP’s cor­re­spon­dent in east Aleppo said fe­ro­cious clashes could be heard in the Tariq Al-Bab district, where regime forces were ad­vanc­ing on Thurs­day. Civil­ians had al­ready to­tally emp­tied the ad­ja­cent neigh­bor­hood of Al-Shaar, where a few rebels manned po­si­tions in the streets. The es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence has been met with in­ter­na­tional out­rage, in­clud­ing a UN warn­ing that east Aleppo could be­come “a gi­ant grave­yard”.

No end to dead­lock

Rus­sia on Thurs­day pro­posed set­ting up four hu­man­i­tar­ian cor­ri­dors into east Aleppo to bring in aid and evac­u­ated se­verely wounded peo­ple. Moscow has an­nounced sev­eral hu­man­i­tar­ian pauses in Aleppo to al­low civil­ians to flee, but un­til the re­cent es­ca­la­tion, only a hand­ful did so. East Aleppo’s res­i­dents have been wary of pre­vi­ous such of­fers be­cause of Rus­sia’s sup­port for As­sad, in­clud­ing launch­ing a bomb­ing cam­paign in sup­port of his forces in Septem­ber 2015. Dozens of fam­i­lies trick­led out yes­ter­day, adding to the more than 50,000 peo­ple who have poured out of east Aleppo into ter­ri­tory con­trolled by gov­ern­ment forces or lo­cal Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties, the Ob­ser­va­tory said. Among those flee­ing are nearly 20,000 chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates by the UN’s chil­dren’s agency. “What is crit­i­cal now is that we pro­vide the im­me­di­ate and sus­tained as­sis­tance that these chil­dren and their fam­i­lies des­per­ately need,” UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told re­porters in Geneva. “It’s a race against time, as win­ter is here and con­di­tions are ba­sic.”

On a one-day trip to Beirut on Thurs­day, Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier pledged 50 mil­lion eu­ros ($53 mil­lion) to or­ga­ni­za­tions serv­ing the “suf­fer­ing pop­u­la­tion” of Aleppo. He said the po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion in the United States af­ter Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent meant world pow­ers should not “aim for a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion”, but fo­cus on “de­fus­ing the con­flict”. “What we must achieve is an agree­ment on breaks in the fight­ing, hope­fully lead­ing to a cease­fire so those who are suf­fer­ing so hor­ri­bly can fi­nally have their ba­sic needs met,” Stein­meier said. The loss of east Aleppo-a rebel strong­hold since 2012 — would be the big­gest blow to Syria’s op­po­si­tion in more than five years. More than 200 civil so­ci­ety groups on Thurs­day ap­pealed to the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly to take ac­tion on Syria be­cause “there is no sign that the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dead­lock will end any­time soon”. They urged “UN mem­ber states to step in and re­quest an Emer­gency Spe­cial Ses­sion of the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly” to end vi­o­lence in Aleppo and across Syria. The con­flict erupted in March 2011 with protests calling for As­sad’s ouster, and has since evolved into a bloody and highly glob­alised war that has killed more than 300,000 peo­ple.

—AFP

JIB­RIN: A Syr­ian child, who fled with his fam­ily from rebel-held ar­eas in the city of Aleppo, re­acts as he holds a sand­wich on De­cem­ber 1, 2016, at a shel­ter in the neigh­bour­hood.

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