A monitoring group has documented 162 deaths in rebel-held Aleppo in the past week. Reuters photo
Russia has criticised the US and UK for using “unacceptable” tone and rhetoric in speeches on Syria at the UN, after being accused of “barbarism”.
On Sunday, US permanent representative Samantha Power said Russian and Syrian forces were “laying waste” to besieged rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that such language might damage efforts to end the five-year civil war.
Activists meanwhile reported dozens of fresh air strikes on Aleppo overnight.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least two civilians had been killed and many wounded.
At least 162 people are believed to have died in rebel-held Aleppo since last Monday, when a truce brokered by the US and Russia collapsed.
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The US, UK and France, which back the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, openly accused Russia of lying about its involvement in the assault on Aleppo at an emergency session of the UN Security Council.
Activists said they believed a bunker-busting bomb hit Aleppo’s Tariq al-Bab district on Friday. Reuters photo
British permanent representative Matthew Rycroft said Mr Assad’s forces and Moscow had “plunged to new depths and unleashed a new hell on Aleppo”, which was once Syria’s largest city and the country’s industrial and commercial hub.
He alleged that they were committing war crimes by using bunker-busting bombs to destroy underground shelters, dropping incendiary weapons indiscriminately on civilian areas, and targeting the city’s water supplies.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a photo at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York, on Sept 23, 2016. PHOTO by REUTERS
Ms Power told the meeting: “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism; it is barbarism,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power added.
Samantha Power. AP photo Virginia Mayo
BBC Monitoring: Russian media hail defiant diplomats
Pro-Kremlin media in Russia have been gripped by the discussions on Syria at the UN Security Council, but they offered little comment on the accusations levelled against Moscow.
Troops captured the Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat, north of Aleppo, on Saturday EPA Photo
Instead, they dismissed the charges as “groundless” and hailed the response of Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin. “Both US and UK permanent representatives were lavish in criticising Moscow and Damascus, but received a firm response,” said Gazprom-owned NTV.
State-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta accused the US and its allies of trying to “exert pressure on Damascus and Moscow, while doing nothing to meet their own obligations”.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin blamed the unravelling of the truce deal on the US, saying it had failed to convince mainstream rebels to distance themselves from “terrorist” groups, especially the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
Mr Peskov also rejected the Western criticism at a news conference on Monday.
“We note that the tone and rhetoric used by official representatives from the UK and US is generally unacceptable and it can seriously damage the settlement process and our bilateral relations,” he said.
Mr Peskov acknowledged that the truce deal had been “not very effective”, but insisted that Moscow “definitely remains hopeful”.
He also warned that “terrorists” had used the truce to “regroup, replenish their arsenals and obviously prepare for offensive actions”.
Food is becoming increasingly hard to find in Aleppo, three weeks into the government’s siege. AFP photo
Meanwhile, a medical source in rebel-held Aleppo told the AFP news agency that a shortage of blood meant hospitals were struggling to deal with the huge number of casualties caused by air strikes over the past four days.
There was also no water supply in many areas after pumping stations were damaged at the weekend, and several charity kitchens were forced to close because of the violence.
‘Americans are on our side’: Al-Nusra commander says US arming jihadists via 3rd countries
“Yes, the US supports the opposition [in Syria], but not directly. They support the countries that support us. But we are not yet satisfied with this support,” Jabhat al-Nusra unit commander Abu Al Ezz said in an interview with Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper from the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo.
According to the commander, the militants should be receiving more “sophisticated weapons” from their backers to succeed against the Syrian government.
“The fight is difficult. The regime is strong and gets support from Russia,” he explained.
Al Ezz said that Jabhat Al-Nusra “won battles thanks to TOW rockets. Due to these rockets, we reached a balance with the regime. Our tanks came from Libya via Turkey, joined by the [BM-21] multiple rocket launchers,” he said.
The government forces have an advantage because of aircraft and missile launchers, but “we have the American-made TOW missiles, and the situation in some areas is under control,” Al Ezz added.
When asked if the TOW missiles were initially intended for Jabhat Al-Nusra or if the group obtained them from the moderate Free Syrian Army, the jihadist clarified: “No, the missiles were given to us directly.”
He also said that when Jabhat Al-Nusra was “besieged, we had officers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and America here… Experts in the use of satellites, rockets, reconnaissance and thermal security cameras.”
The journalist asked specifically if the US instructors were really present among the jihadists’ ranks and Al Ezz replied: “The Americans are on our side.”
He also said that Jabhat Al-Nusra has been paid for achieving specific military goals during the Syrian conflict.
“We got 500 million Syrian pounds (around $2.3 million) from Saudi Arabia. To capture the Infantry School in Al Muslimiya years ago we received 1.5 million Kuwaiti dinars (around $500,000) and Saudi Arabia’s $5 million,” Al Ezz said.
The money came from the “governments” of those states, not private individuals, he said.
“Israel is now giving us support because Israel is at war with Syria and with Hezbollah,” Al Ezz said.
The West also “paved the way” for jihadists coming to Syria, saying that “we have many fighters from Germany, France, Britain, America, from all the Western countries,” the commander said.
‘Al-Nusra using ceasefire to regroup, prepare for new attacks’In the interview, he confirmed claims made by Moscow and the Syrian government that the militants were using the Syrian ceasefire, agreed by Russia and US on September 9, to prepare for a new offensive.
“We do not recognize the ceasefire. We will regroup our groups. We will carry out the next overwhelming attack against the regime in a few days. We have regrouped our forces in all provinces, including Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Hama,” Al Ezz said.
He said that Jabhat Al-Nusa would not let trucks with humanitarian aid enter Aleppo “as long as the regime [forces] are along the Castello Road, in Al Malah and in the northern regions.”
“The regime must withdraw from all the territories, and we will let the trucks in. If a truck is going in anyway, we will detain the driver,” he said.
The idea of a transitional government in Syria is also not supported by Jabhat Al-Nusra, the commander said.
“We accept no one from the Assad regime or of the Free Syrian Army, which is described as moderate. Our goal is to overthrow the regime, and establish an Islamic state in accordance with the Islamic Sharia,” he said.
As for the people who represent the Syrian opposition at the Geneva
talks, Al Ezz said that “these people are weak, they’ve got a lot of money. They’ve sold themselves.”
“There are mercenaries in Syria, Alloush fights with Al Nusra-Front,” he said talking about Mohammed Alloush, a leader in the Jaysh al-Islam group, part of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) in the peace talks. “The group that was housed in Turkey and which was turned into the Free Syrian Army, used to be part of Al Nusra-Front.”
The commander openly confirmed that Jabhat Al-Nusra “are part of Al Qaeda,” the terrorist network responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
“Actually, we were inside one group together with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). But the Islamic State has been used in accordance with the interests and political purposes of the big powers like America, and the group has drifted away from our principles. Most of the IS leaders are working with intelligence services, and it’s now clear for us. We, the Jabhat Al-Nusra, have our own way,” Al Ezz said.
The interview with Jabhat al-Nusra’s commander was taken at a stone quarry in Aleppo on September 17 by Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger journalist Jurgen Todenhofer on his seventh trip to war-torn Syria.