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Air strikes, fighting break ceasefire in Aleppo

There have been night-time clashes as each day of the ceasefire has ended, but Saturday saw much fiercer fighting

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Fierce fighting and air strikes broke the third day of a four-day unilateral Russian ceasefire in the divided Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday, a monitor said.

The first Syrian or Russian air strikes on Aleppo since Russia began the pause in hostilities on Thursday hit a key front line in the city’s southwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Clashes and shelling which had continued throughout the day on front lines intensified late in the day, a witness and the Observatory said.

Air strikes had continued to target areas outside the city throughout the ceasefire.

Russia has been announcing daily that it will abide by the next day of the series of daytime ceasefires, which it said it called to allow civilians and rebels to leave the besieged city, but no announcement was made on Saturday.

There have been night-time clashes as each day of the ceasefire has ended, but Saturday saw much fiercer fighting plus the first air strikes.

Aleppo was Syria’s most populous city before the war, but is now divided into government- and rebel-held areas. Intense bombardment has reduced the rebel-held east of the city to ruins.

Once again, no medical evacuations or aid deliveries to rebel-held areas were possible on Saturday, the United Nations said.

Rebels did not accept the ceasefire, which they say does nothing to alleviate the situation of those who choose to remain in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, and believe it is part of a government policy to purge cities of political opponents.

The Syrian army and Russia had called on residents and rebels in eastern Aleppo to leave through designated corridors and depart for other insurgent-held districts under a promise of safe travel, but very few rebels or civilians appeared to have left.

“Nobody has left through the corridors. The small number of people which who tried to leave were faced with shelling around the (corridor area) and could not leave,” said Zakaria Malahifji, a rebel official with the Fastaqim group, which is present in the city.

Syrian state media says rebels have been preventing civilians from leaving east Aleppo. Pro-government channels broadcast footage of ambulances and green buses parked at empty reception points in government-held Aleppo, said to be waiting for civilians and fighters from the city’s east.

Besieged east Aleppo has not received United Nations assistance since early July and rebel groups have said they are preparing an attack to try to break through the government siege.

The United Nations had hoped that the ceasefires would allow medical evacuations and aid deliveries, but said a lack of security guarantees had prevented aid workers from taking advantage of the pause in bombing.

“The UN remains hopeful that parties will provide all necessary guarantees and is actively working to that end,” UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said. He said humanitarian workers were ready to proceed as soon as conditions allowed.

“The situation on the ground remains volatile as exchanges of fire and clashes continue. Just today bullets struck the hotel where the UN hub is based and critically injured one hotel staff,” Laerke said.

Sporadic clashes between insurgents and Syrian government and allied forces had been reported earlier on Saturday along frontlines, with some shells falling on both the government-held western side of the city and the rebel-held east, the Observatory said.

US condemns Assad’s ‘defiance’ on chemical weapons use

The White House on Saturday condemned the Assad regime’s “defiance” of international norms after United Nations experts found the Syrian army had conducted three chemical weapons attacks against its own people in 2014 and 2015.

Of the nine alleged chemical attacks it is considering in its ongoing probe, the UN-led joint investigative mechanism has now attributed three to the Syrian government and one to ISIS.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Assad regime’s defiance of the longstanding global norm against chemical weapons use and Syria’s abrogation of its responsibilities under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it joined in 2013,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“The Syrian regime has violated the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2118 by using industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people.”