Syria — A man carries an injured child after airstrikes on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo
By Roland Oliphant
The United States has demanded a no-fly zone over Syria to in response to a spate of airstrikes by Russian and Syrian jets that have left dozens dead and a cease-fire on the verge in danger of collapse back into full scale war.
All aircraft over northern Syria must be grounded to prevent Bashar al-Assad’s regime from attacking civilians, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State said at a session of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.
In a demand for an end to “business as usual,” Mr Kerry said the recent bombing of a UN aid convoy that left at least 20 dead marked a “moment of truth for Russia and president Putin.”
Mr Kerry’s comments came hours after at least five staff from a French medical charity were killed when their clinic in northern Syria was hit by an airstrike, the latest in an eruption of violence since the breakdown of a week-long truce brokered by the US and Russia.
The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, known by the French acronym UOSSM, said three nurses and two ambulances drivers were killed when their medical facility was bombed outside Aleppo.
“This is a deplorable act against healthcare workers and medical facilities,” said Dr Khaula Sawah, the head of UOSSM USA.
The strike is believed to have been carried out by either Russia or the Syrian regime.
The US blamed Russia for the bombing of an Red Crescent aid convoy on Monday night, which killed around 20 people and prompted the UN to halt the delivery of aid across Syria.
Meanwhile, Russian and regime forces resumed their bombardment of the rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo, with dozens of airstrikes pummeling the city.
A damaged site after airstrikes on rebel held al-Qaterji
“It is unbelievable the number of airstrikes that are targeting Aleppo neighbourhoods”, said Abdelkafe al-Hamdo, an opposition activist in the city.
The intensified fighting in Syria came as world powers gathered in New York for the meeting of the UN General Assembly.
Western diplomats said they were urgently trying to revive the ceasefire agreement with Russia, which they see as the only real path to slowing the violence in Syria and trying to restart political negotiations to be bring the five-year war to an end.
But in a sign of increasing desperation, the two officials largely credited with achieving the ceasefire deal in the first place clashed as the UN Security Council met in a desperate attempt to save the ceasefire on Wednesday afternoon.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, ruled out a fresh ceasefire unless “all sides” agreed, saying rebel groups had used previous truces as an opportunity to rearm and that the US had failed to use its influence with militants to persuade them to respect the ceasefire.
Mr Kerry responded that his colleague was living in “a different universe” and accused Russia of deliberately obfuscating about the bombing of the UN aid convoy on Monday. He added that he believed a cease-fire can still be salvaged.
But the bombing of the UOSSM clinic is a fresh setback as diplomats try to piece the truce back together again.
The attack destroyed the three-story medical clinic and two ambulances in the rebel-held town of Khan Touman, according to the charity.
Credit: ABDALRHMAN ISMAIL/Reuters
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the fighting in Syria, said at least nine militants were also killed in the strike, including some from Jaish Fateh al-Sham, a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda.
The attack on Tuesday came 24 hours after a 31-vehicle Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy was attacked on Monday. US officials told Reuters that Russian aircraft were in the skies above the convoy and that the US believed Russia was responsible for the attack.
Russia and the Syrian regime have both denied responsibility for the attack. “The air forces of Russia and Syria did not conduct any strikes against the UN aid convoy in the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo,” a Russian defense ministry spokesman said.
© AFP | A Syrian man stands in the rubble of destroyed buildings following an air strike in Aleppo’s rebel-controlled neighbourhood of Karm al-Jabal on September 18, 2016
Ban Ki-Moon, the outgoing UN secretary general, called the attack “sickening, savage and apparently deliberate”.
Russia dispatched an aircraft carrier to reinforce its flotilla off the Syrian coast on Wednesday, in a move that will increase the capacity of the Russian air contingent operating over the country.
The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only carrier and the flagship of the Russian navy, will join an existing flotilla of six war ships and up to four support vessels, Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, said on Wednesday.
The Soviet- built vessel carries MiG-29 jets and Ka-52 attack helicopters that are expected to take part in combat operations over Syria.
Russia has maintained a permanent naval presence in the eastern Medeterranean since 2013.
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