Rus­sia, Syria ramp up bat­tle for be­sieged city of Aleppo

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND WORLD - By Bassem Mroue and Sarah El Deeb

BEIRUT — With in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy in tat­ters and the U.S. fo­cused on its elec­tion, the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and its Rus­sian al­lies are seiz­ing the mo­ment to wage an all-out cam­paign to re­cap­ture Aleppo, un­leash­ing the most de­struc­tive bomb­ing of the past five years and push­ing into the cen­ter of the Old City.

Des­per­ate res­i­dents de­scribe hor­rific scenes in Syria’s largest city and one­time com­mer­cial cen­ter, with hos­pi­tals and un­der­ground shel­ters hit by in­dis­crim­i­nate airstrikes that the U.N. said may amount to a war crime.

De­bris cov­ers streets lined with bombed- out build­ings, trap­ping peo­ple in their neigh­bor­hoods and hin­der­ing res­cue work­ers.

On Tues­day, ac­tivists re­ported at least 11 peo­ple killed in airstrikes on two dis­tricts in the rebel-held part of Aleppo.

The bat­tle for Aleppo is un­likely to be an easy one for gov­ern­ment forces be­cause the iso­lated rebels say they are de­ter­mined to “fight un­til the end” to de­fend their neigh­bor­hoods.

If gov­ern­ment forces and their al­lies cap­ture the rebel-held east­ern neigh­bor­hoods, it would be a turn­ing point in the 51⁄ year-old civil war that has killed more than 250,000 peo­ple and dis­placed half of Syria’s pop­u­la­tion.

Over the course of the con­flict, the gov­ern­ment has slowly re­gained con­trol of ma­jor cities. Its aim ap­pears to be se­cur­ing what some an­a­lysts call “use­ful Syria” — a por­tion con­tain­ing the four largest cities of Aleppo, Da­m­as­cus, Homs and Hama, along with its Mediter­ranean coast.

Aleppo is the last of the ma­jor cities still be­ing con­tested, and it could take gov­ern­ment forces six months to a year to cap­ture it, un­less they aim to “an­ni­hi­late” the city, a Western diplo­mat said.

Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad “doesn’t want a ne­go­ti­a­tion,” the diplo­mat said, adding that “the Rus­sians wouldn’t or couldn’t stop him” from at­tack­ing Aleppo.

In Rus­sia, Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Mikhail Bog­danov told Syria’s am­bas­sador that Moscow has “a firm in­ten­tion to con­tinue pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment in fight­ing ter­ror­ism and to help achieve the soon­est pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment of the Syr­ian cri­sis.”

Op­po­si­tion forces con­trol al­most half of Aleppo, the only ma­jor city where rebels hold such a large area. The U.N. says over 250,000 peo­ple live in the rebel ar­eas, while more than 1 mil­lion are in the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled part.

Since the one- week cease-fire bro­kered by Rus­sia and the U.S. ended Sept. 19, Aleppo has been un­der in­tense Rus­sian and Syr­ian airstrikes, killing more than 200 civil­ians, knock­ing down en­tire build­ings, dis­rupt­ing wa­ter sup­plies and tar­get­ing Civil De­fense cen­ters.

At­tempts to re­vive the cease-fire dur­ing the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly failed, and U.S. Am­bas­sador Sa­man­tha Pow­ers crit­i­cized Rus­sia, say­ing Moscow was prac­tic­ing “bar­barism.”

KARAM AL-MASRI/GETTY-AFP

Syr­i­ans sift through de­bris Tues­day af­ter airstrikes bat­tered rebel-held parts of Aleppo. Ac­tivists said 11 peo­ple died in the strikes, some of the heav­i­est in the 51⁄ year civil war.

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