Dozens killed in Aleppo as U.N. meets over Syria
BEIRUT — At least 26 civilians were killed in fresh government airstrikes on the contested city of Aleppo, Syrian activists said Sunday, as the United Nations Security Council convened an emergency meeting on the spiraling violence in Syria but failed to take any action because of divisions between Russia and the Western powers.
The United States, Britain and France, who called the emergency meeting, heaped blame on Moscow for supporting the Syrian offensive, which U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura called one of the worst of the 51⁄ year war.
When Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari was called to speak in the council, the ambassadors of the three Western powers walked out in protest.
They had demanded a halt to the Aleppo offensive and immediate council action, and their walkout demonstrated anger and frustration not only at Damascus but at Russia for backing close ally Bashar Assad’s military campaign while talking about reviving a cessation of hostilities.
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it’s barbarism,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said. “It’s apocalyptic what is being done in eastern Aleppo.”
As the government offensive entered its fourth day Sunday, medical workers and local officials reported airstrikes on neighborhoods throughout Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern districts.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 26 civilians had been killed and said it expects the toll to rise. Ibrahim Alhaj of the Syrian Civil Defense search and rescue outfit gave a higher A tractor clears rubble Saturday after a Syrian government airstrike on a rebel-held neighborhood of Aleppo. toll, saying hospitals and rescuers had documented the deaths of 43 people Sunday.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of contacts inside Syria, said earlier in the day that 213 civilians had been killed by airstrikes and shelling on opposition areas in and around Aleppo since the U. S.- Russian brokered cease-fire collapsed last Monday.
Hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties and medical workers are expecting many of the wounded to die from a lack of treatment, according to Mohammad Zein Khandaqani, a member of the Medical Council, which oversees medical affairs in the city’s opposition quarters. “I’ve never seen so many people dying in (one) place,” he said from a hospital in the city. “It’s terrifying today.”
Conflicting casualty estimates are common in the aftermath of clashes and attacks in Syria.
At the start of the Security Council meeting, de Mistura said the offensive against eastern Aleppo, where up to 275,000 people “have been under a form of de facto siege for almost 20 days,” followed the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing of Syrian troops, which Washington called a tragic mistake, and a deadly attack on a U.N. convoy carrying humanitarian aid.
“But no incident, irrespective of whether it can be attributed or not, does justify what is going on in front of our own eyes: the unraveling of the cessation of hostilities and the simultaneous unleashing of unprecedented military violence affecting innocent civilians as well,” he said.
He urged the United States and Russia “to go that extra mile to see if they can save their agreement of Sept. 9 and do so at the eleventh hour.”
He also urged the Security Council to press for a cessation of hostilities, weekly pauses to deliver aid and medical evacuations for several urgent cases in eastern Aleppo.
De Mistura said Syrians and the international community are losing any remaining hope with Washington and Moscow “unless we salvage what was agreed on.”
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin blamed Syria’s rebels for sabotaging the cease-fire agreement by using the lull to shore up their forces, and he accused the Western coalition of failing to separate the moderate factions it backs from “terrorist” groups — especially the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.