.
.
.
.

Syrian opposition: Stop Aleppo violence

The opposition chief accused Assad’s government of war crimes and urged for ‘regime aggression’ in Aleppo to stop

Published: Updated:

The main Western-backed Syrian opposition group on Saturday urged the international community to stop what they called “regime aggression” in Syria’s second city of Aleppo.

The government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “has been trying to impose a political solution outside international law and the framework of Geneva peace talks,” the Syrian National Coalition’s President Anas al-Abdah said at a news conference.

Syria and U.S. policy in the Levant expert Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow with Washington institute told Al Arabiya English that calls for the international community to intervene will not result in much change.

“Sadly I don't expect the international community to do much of anything except condemn the regime and send in more assistance. The US and Russia are negotiating to extend the silence to Aleppo but it doesn't look good,” Tabler said.

The opposition chief also accused Assad’s government of “war crimes,” adding that a strike on a hospital in on Thursday had killed 65 people, most of them women and children.

The past week has seen a spike in fighting which has left more than 200 people dead in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Despite a truce which came into force on February 27, what was once Syria's economic powerhouse has become the scene of some of the worst fighting in a conflict which has killed more than 270,000 people in the past five years.

However, earlier on Satuirday Moscow's foreign ministry said Russia will not ask the Syrian regime to halt air raids on the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, because it believes they are helping to combat militant groups.

“No, we are not going to put pressure on (Damascus) because one must understand that the situation in Aleppo is part of this fight against the terrorist threat,” Foreign deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.

Nearly 30 air strikes hit rebel-held areas of Syria’s northern city of Aleppo on Saturday and the total number of people killed by the warring sides after nine straight days of bombardment reached nearly 250, a monitoring group said.

However, a temporary “regime of calm” announced by the Syrian army late on Friday appeared to have taken hold in two other areas blighted by recent fighting, in the northwest coastal province Latakia and outskirts of the capital Damascus.

The Syrian government said the “regime of calm” - from which a military source said Aleppo had been exempted - was an attempt to salvage a wider ceasefire deal reached in February.

The February truce, brokered by Washington and Moscow, has all but collapsed in fighting that has intensified, particularly in and around Aleppo as peace talks in Geneva have crumbled.

At least five people were killed in Aleppo early on Saturday in the latest round of air strikes, which were believed to have been carried out by Syrian government warplanes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The British-based monitoring group put the civilian death toll in government and rebel bombardments of neighborhoods in Aleppo since April 22 at nearly 250.

This figure included around 140 people killed by government-aligned forces in air strikes and shelling of rebel-held areas, including 19 children, it said. Insurgent shelling of government-held areas killed 96 people, including 21 children.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, has been divided for years between rebel and government zones. Full control would be the most important prize for President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting to keep hold of his country throughout a five-year civil war.

‘A bit quieter’

Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said government-held areas of Aleppo were “a bit quieter today”, but that shells fired by rebels were still intermittently hitting.

“There aren’t clashes in Latakia, there aren’t clashes in Ghouta (Damascus suburbs),” only some lower-level violence between rival rebel groups outside Damascus, Abdulrahman said.

A resident of Western Ghouta, which is under government siege, said shelling appeared to have ceased around the capital in the hours after the start of the “regime of calm” at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT on Friday).

“Until now there has been no military activity and no sound of bombardments in nearby areas, no sound of shelling or of warplanes,” the resident, Maher Abu Jaafar, told Reuters via internet messenger.

“It’s the opposite of last night, when there was a lot of bombing and the sounds of rockets and shells.”

A Friday statement from the Syrian army did not explain what military or non-military action a “regime of calm” would entail.

It said it would last for 24 hours in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus and for 72 hours in areas of the northern Latakia countryside.

The United Nations has called on Moscow and Washington to help restore the ceasefire to prevent the complete collapse of talks aimed at ending a conflict in which more than 250,000 people have been killed and millions displaced.

(With AFP, Reuters)