Scottish Daily Mail


An obscene array of weapons is turning Syria’s second largest city into a slaughter house


ALePPO was once revered as a World heritage Site, an ancient city boasting historic citadels, schools and souks, whose status and wealth were founded upon its fortunate location near Turkey’s border in the north of Syria.

Today, however, it is better known for being the world’s charnel house.

No longer a centre of culture and trade, it is a place of extreme violence and death, a hell in which explosives, chemicals and fire rain from the sky, killing and burying alive its inhabitant­s in their hundreds, with many more maimed or made homeless. For four long years Syrian government forces have besieged and pulverised the city, intent on crushing enemy rebels who have made large swathes of it their base.

But in those rebel-held areas live an estimated 300,000 civilians and daily there have been terrible images of destructio­n and death, of their bloodied children being dragged from rubble, of innocent families in despair as they seek medical help for their loved ones.

Over the last week the bombardmen­t has dramatical­ly escalated. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, backed by the ruthless airpower of his ally President Putin as well as by Iranian forces, has launched an aerial assault of cataclysmi­c proportion­s. A ground attack to capture the city began two days ago.

Russian and Syrian jets, helicopter­s and rocket launchers have, for hour upon hour, been carpeting civilian areas of Aleppo with barrel bombs, which spray shrapnel and chemicals over large areas, and with cluster bombs containing deadly incendiary substances such as white phosphorus and napalm.

They have even unleashed brutal groundpene­trating ‘thermobari­c’ weapons which suck the oxygen out of the air and from people’s lungs to create an intensely hot explosion, and whose effects are so devastatin­g they have been described as the most powerful explosive apart from a nuclear bomb.

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia it would end talks unless the bombing stopped.

It was only last month that the world recoiled in disgust at the haunting picture of an injured fiveyear-old Syrian boy, Omran Daqneesh, who had been pulled from the rubble after a Syrian attack.

Dazed, covered in dust, and with blood streaming from his head, he was sitting alone in an ambulance seat that appeared many times too big for him.

Yet global revulsion as the image went viral on the internet did nothing to stop the carnage.

Aleppo’s importance to Assad cannot be overstated. As Syria’s main commercial centre before the war, with a population of 2.3 million, it is of immense psychologi­cal and strategic value to the regime, and its capture from the rebels would help to ensure Assad remains in power.

But for that very reason rebel groups are determined to hold the ground they have taken in the eastern quarter of the city.

TheY consist of a multitude of factions that don’t always see eye to eye — from the Islamist soldiers of the Free Syrian Army to jihadist-linked groups like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which until earlier this year was Al-Qaeda’s front in Syria. What these factions have in common is a mutual loathing of Assad’s rule.

Amid the devastatio­n there have been military successes on both sides. earlier this summer, the rebels had been gaining ground and came close to breaking through the government lines besieging the city.

Putin — determined to see Assad stay in power, not least because he wants a Russian naval base on Syria’s Mediterran­ean coast — responded by unleashing aerial devastatio­n. Appalled, the UN brokered a ceasefire earlier this month. But Russian belligeren­ce ensured its collapse — as this week’s unpreceden­ted onslaught shows.

The terror unleashed has been so appalling that Britain and America have both accused Putin of committing war crimes.

Last week, American officials said that a UN aid convoy was destroyed outside the city by bombs dropped from Russian jets.

Now, a barrel bomb has hit a hospital in the rebel-held area of the city. Save The Children described the attack as outrageous: ‘When hospitals are targeted or damaged in air strikes, children die. Such disregard for civilian life is a potential breach of internatio­nal humanitari­an law.’

Medics are already overwhelme­d by the sheer volume of bleeding and broken humanity in Aleppo, where other hospitals have been attacked: doctors work in unhygienic makeshift wards and medicines are in desperatel­y short supply. Blood is needed for transfusio­ns, but donors no longer exist because it is too dangerous for people to venture out to a donor centre.

Worse still, water is becoming desperatel­y scarce. In a move that can only be considered genocidal, Assad’s jets have attacked the Bab al-Nayrab pumping station, which supplies some 250,000 people in the eastern part of the city and its outskirts.

‘Depriving children of water puts them at risk of catastroph­ic outbreaks of waterborne diseases and adds to the suffering, fear and horror that children in Aleppo live through

every day,’ says Hanaa Singer, the Unicef representa­tive in Syria. ‘In the eastern part of Aleppo, the population will have to resort to highly contaminat­ed well water.’

That will mean diseases such as cholera, which is as deadly as the Russian bombs that are estimated to have killed as many as 200 in the past few days.

Even after the bombs have exploded, the damage they wreak continues. ‘These new bombs, they make the buildings shake so much that some are collapsing even when there are no strikes,’ says Ammar al-Selmo, the chief of Aleppo’s Syria Civil Defence rescue group. ‘People can’t hide from them, even undergroun­d.’

Indeed, rescue workers have alleged that Russian bunker-buster bombs have killed families hiding in cellars.

There are many around the world who are horrified at what is happening in Syria, and deeply frustrated by the failure of the United Nations or the West to stop Assad’s apocalypse on Aleppo.

None is angrier than David Nott, the hugely respected consultant surgeon at the Royal Marsden and Chelsea and Westminste­r Hospitals in London, who has spent several weeks every year carrying out lifesaving operations in war zones all over the world, including Afghanista­n, Iraq, Bosnia, Libya, Pakistan — and Aleppo.

Mr Nott last worked in the city two years ago, but he has maintained regular contact with his Syrian surgical colleagues, and recently even helped perform an extraordin­ary operation via Skype in which a man’s jaw was reconstruc­ted.

‘Somebody in Aleppo sent me a message saying that airstrikes are taking place every two to five minutes,’ he says. ‘On Sunday, a colleague told me that he had to deal with 168 casualties in just a few hours.

‘At the weekend, 20 children were killed in just one air strike. They had all been standing in a line to get some bread.’

Mr Nott insists that both British Prime Minister Theresa May and the French premier Francois Hollande should fly to Moscow, and tell Vladimir Putin in person that he should no longer be supporting President Assad.

Others are calling for the United Nations to intervene, but experts believe it is already too late to stop the bombardmen­t and that the battle for Aleppo has reached a decisive phase.

‘Russian bombs will destroy east Aleppo and kill everyone it in unless the UN helps the civilians to evacuate,’ Joshua Landis, director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, has said.

‘They will continue to pound it into dust ... the rebels are in an unsalvagea­ble position.’

Which means that, for the poor souls of the benighted city of Aleppo, the worst is yet to come.

 ??  ?? Victim: Rescuers carry the body of a young girl from a bombed building
Victim: Rescuers carry the body of a young girl from a bombed building
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