UN re­leases satel­lite im­ages of dam­age in Syria’s Aleppo

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

The UN yes­ter­day re­leased stark satel­lite im­ages show­ing the most re­cent de­struc­tion of Syria’s em­bat­tled north­ern city of Aleppo, pounded by Syr­ian and Rus­sian airstrikes since the col­lapse of a US-Rus­sia bro­kered cease-fire two weeks ago.

The re­lease co­in­cides with a stepped-up of­fen­sive by Syr­ian pro-govern­ment forces that are at­tack­ing the city from the south in a bid to pen­e­trate its op­po­si­tion-con­trolled ar­eas, where the UN es­ti­mates 275,000 peo­ple are trapped in a govern­ment siege.

In Geneva, an of­fi­cial with the UN‘s satel­lite im­agery pro­gram said the new pic­tures from the rebel-held ar­eas in the east­ern half of the city show much de­struc­tion, pre­sum­ably caused by airstrikes.

“Since the cease-fire has bro­ken down, you cer­tainly see an aw­ful lot of new dam­age or plenty of new dam­age,” said Lars Brom­ley, a re­search ad­viser at UNOSAT.

The im­ages, from Dig­i­tal Globe and ob­tained by the UN agency through a li­cens­ing ar­range­ment with the US State Depart­ment, show mostly “for­merly blasted and blown-up ar­eas” dur­ing Syria’s 5-1/2-year war “ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a great deal of ad­di­tional dam­age,” said Brom­ley.

“To a cer­tain ex­tent you’re look­ing at rub­ble be­ing pushed around,” he told re­porters.

The im­ages pri­mar­ily show be­fore-and-af­ter pic­tures from mid to late Septem­ber show­ing de­struc­tion of build­ings, in­clud­ing houses, af­ter the short-lived cease-fire broke down. Sev­eral im­ages are from north­ern Aleppo neigh­bor­hoods, where govern­ment forces have also ad­vanced against rebel fight­ers bat­tling back.

“Since the cease-fire has bro­ken down, you cer­tainly see an aw­ful lot of new dam­age or plenty of new dam­age,” Brom­ley added. “Re­mem­ber that the ar­eas that are be­ing bombed have been bombed al­most con­tin­u­ously for quite some time. So see­ing dra­matic im­ages of for­merly pris­tine ar­eas now turned to rub­ble — you don’t see a lot of that.”

One im­age, dated Satur­day, shows the dam­age to a school or ath­letic fa­cil­ity in Aleppo’s Owaija dis­trict.

Some of the im­ages had a “sig­na­ture” that airstrikes had done the dam­age — a large-size crater.

“Air-dropped mu­ni­tions are of­ten much larger than any­thing you would fire on the ground, so a gi­ant crater in the ground is al­most cer­tainly an air-dropped mu­ni­tion,” Brom­ley ex­plained. “Then things like rock­ets, they will of­ten oc­cur in a row, whereas ar­tillery or mor­tars will kind of

have a dif­fer­ent pat­tern.”

“But there is also a lot of over­lap, there is a lot of smaller air­dropped bombs that will look al­most the same as a mor­tar or an ar­tillery piece,” he added.

UNOSAT man­ager Ei­nar Bjorgo added that places like Aleppo, which has long been the fo­cus of Syria’s bit­ter civil war, now in its sixth year, “are of course com­plex to an­a­lyze be­cause you have a mix of all this.”

The im­ages could also pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant in­sight af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial at­tack — such as a deadly at­tack on a UN-backed hu­man­i­tar­ian aid con­voy west of Aleppo last month.

“With our anal­y­sis, we de­ter­mined that it was an airstrike,” Brom­ley said. Con­voy or­ga­niz­ers had ob­tained nec­es­sary clear­ances from the govern­ment, rebels as well as the Amer­i­cans and Rus­sians, who op­er­ated air­craft in Syr­ian skies.

The top US mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, Marine Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Sen­ate com­mit­tee last week that he be­lieves Rus­sia bombed the con­voy and said Syr­ian and Rus­sian air­craft were in the area at the time. Rus­sia and Syria have de­nied that they were re­spon­si­ble for the strike.

The UN of­fi­cials also pre­sented im­ages from Iraq that showed plumes of black smoke from burn­ing oil fields about 15 kilo­me­tres south of Mo­sul that were set aflame as Is­lamic State re­treated to the city.

UNOSAT gen­er­ally pro­vides im­ages to UN agen­cies, such as the refugee agency UNHCR, which is pre­par­ing for an ex­pected ex­o­dus from IS-held Mo­sul af­ter Iraq’s govern­ment an­nounced plans to re­take the city by the end of this year.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, Turk­ish mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said two Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers and a Turk­ish sol­dier were killed in clashes with Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in north­ern Syria, south­west of the town of al-Rai. At least 18 IS fight­ers were also killed, they said.

The mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity in line with reg­u­la­tions, said the Turk­ish backed-op­po­si­tion forces took con­trol of four res­i­den­tial ar­eas: Turk­men Bari, Kuay­bah, Boztepe and Har­danah.

Separately, a Turk­ish sol­dier was killed and three oth­ers were slightly wounded in fight­ing in the op­po­si­tion-held area of Zi­yara, which a group of IS mil­i­tants tried to in­fil­trate.

Turkey sent troops and tanks into Syria in Au­gust to help Syr­ian rebels re-take IS strongholds near the bor­der.

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