Syrian forces continue massive offensive in Aleppo; Assad says Trump could be ‘ally’
BEIRUT – Syrian government warplanes and artillery pounded rebel-held districts of Aleppo for the second day Wednesday, killing at least 11 people and damaging two hospitals, a blood bank and several residential buildings in the city’s eastern neighbourhoods.
Residents rushed for cover and doctors cowered with their patients in a hospital basement amid the relentless onslaught. Local activists said they counted about 50 artillery and airstrikes since the morning hours.
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The resumption of airstrikes on besieged Aleppo began Tuesday as Russia announced its much-anticipated offensive in Syria’s north and central Homs province. Meanwhile, activists reported the airstrikes on besieged Aleppo.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 32 civilians have been killed since the bombardment resumed on Tuesday after a nearly four-week respite for the city’s eastern, rebel-held quarters.
The local Civil Defence rescue group, also known as White Helmets, reported that 11 civilians were killed in the Sukkari neighbourhood on Wednesday alone.
Survivors described the horrific assault and videos posted on social media showed rescuers working through the afternoon to pull victims from the rubble of bombed buildings.
Ibrahim al-Haj of the Civil Defence said one paramedic had been killed.
Adham Sahloul of the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports several hospitals in opposition areas in Syria, said it appeared the government was focusing its fire on Aleppo’s medical infrastructure. There are only five functioning trauma facilities left in eastern Aleppo, he said.
The Independent Doctors Association, which supports several facilities in Syria, said eastern Aleppo’s central blood bank was struck in Wednesday’s attacks, as well as a children’s hospital supported by the association.
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“Me and my staff and all the patients are sitting in one room in the basement right now,” a pediatrician who identified himself only as Dr. Hatem posted in a note that was cited by the association. “We will try to get out when the airstrikes leave our sky. Pray for us please.”
The U.N. estimates that pro-government forces have trapped some 275,000 people in Aleppo’s eastern quarters in a strict blockade enforced since August, as ground and air forces meanwhile pound the area’s hospitals. The U.N. warned last week that food rations inside Aleppo’s rebel-held districts could be depleted this week.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview broadcast Tuesday with Portugal’s state-run RTP television channel that his forces were fighting to liberate civilians from “terrorists,” while most of the rebels in Aleppo, numbering around 8,000 according to the U.N., are Syrians who have been fighting to overthrow Assad.
Assad also identified U.S. President-elect Donald Trump as a possible “natural ally,” if he turned out to be “genuine” about his commitment to fight terror in Syria.
Trump has indicated he would prioritize defeating the Islamic State group in Syria over regime change, saying the rebels could be “worse” than the sitting president.
Elsewhere in Syria’s north, Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces inched closer to taking the town of al-Bab, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) northeast of Aleppo, from the Islamic State group, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Wednesday.
He said the opposition fighters were about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) from al-Bab.
“The siege is going according to plan,” Erdogan said. “There is a resistance there at the moment but I don’t think it will last long.”
Ankara sent ground forces into northern Syria in August, vowing to clear the border area of both IS and Syrian Kurdish militias.
Erdogan also said that U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters – whom Turkey views as terrorists, claiming they are an extension of an outlawed Kurdish insurgent group in Turkey – would soon leave the town of Manbij, in keeping with a purported U.S. promise to Turkey.
More than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year.
© 2016 The Canadian Press