Rocket fire kills 17 in Syrian city of Aleppo

SANA news agency calls the rocket fire a “terrorist attack ...on residential districts”

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Rockets fired into a government-controlled district of Aleppo killed at least 17 people in the northern Syrian city on Wednesday, state media and a monitoring group said.

Photographs from the incident in Meridien and Furqan, two adjacent neighborhoods in western Aleppo, showed pools of blood on the pavements and a crater in the road where one of the rockets appeared to have landed.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the casualties included nine civilians and five members of President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces.

It put the death toll at 18, one more than was reported by state news agency SANA which called the rocket fire a “terrorist attack ...on residential districts” of the disputed city.

Assad’s forces have gained ground to the southwest of Aleppo and carried out air strikes, dropping improvised barrel bombs from helicopters on the town of al-Bab to the northeast.

There has also been a resurgence of fighting in central Aleppo - the heart of what used to be Syria’s biggest city - before next month’s planned peace talks in Geneva.

Assad’s government and the political opposition in exile have said they are ready to attend the talks, but have set out apparently irreconcilable goals.

The opposition says Assad can play no role in Syria’s future and must hand over to a fully empowered transitional government - demands it says were set out in an earlier international meeting in the Swiss city in June last year.

But Assad, bolstered by military gains and backed by Iran and Russia, faces far less pressure to make concessions than a year ago, when a rebel assault on his capital seemed likely.

“If anyone thinks we are going to Geneva 2 to hand over the keys to Damascus they needn’t bother going,” Information Minister Omran Zoabi told the regional broadcaster Al Mayadeen.

“And if anyone thinks that the delegation going to Geneva 2 is authorized by anyone other than President Bashar al-Assad, they are mistaken,” Zoabi said.

“The decision is President Assad’s and he will be the leader in the transitional phase - if we get there... and he will remain Syrian president.”

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