Posts Tagged ‘White Helmets’

Syrian rescuers, medics say gas attack near capital kills 40

April 8, 2018

The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said Sunday that a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near the capital has killed at least 40 people, allegations denied by the Syrian government.

The alleged attack in the town of Douma occurred late Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, reported the attack, saying entire families were found suffocated in their homes and shelters. It reported a death toll from suffocation of more than 40, saying the victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth. In a statement, however, it reported a smell resembling chlorine, which would not explain the described symptoms, usually associated with sarin gas.

It said around 500 people were treated for suffocation and other symptoms, adding that most medical facilities and ambulances were put out of service because of the shelling.

The Syrian American Medical Society, a relief organization, said 41 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 people were killed in Douma on Saturday, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside.

Videos posted online by the White Helmets purportedly showed victims, including toddlers in diapers, breathing through oxygen masks at makeshift hospitals.

The Syrian government, in a statement posted on the state-run news agency SANA, strongly denied the allegations. It said the claims were “fabrications” by the Army of Islam rebel group, calling it a “failed attempt” to impede government advances.

“The army, which is advancing rapidly and with determination, does not need to use any kind of chemical agents,” the statement said.

Syrian government forces resumed their offensive on rebel-held Douma on Friday afternoon after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding the evacuation of Army of Islam fighters. Violence resumed days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria. Douma is the last rebel stronghold in eastern Ghouta.

The alleged gas attack in Douma comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people. That attack prompted the U.S. to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. President Donald Trump said the attack was meant to deter further Syrian use of illegal weapons.

The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, denied any involvement in the alleged gas attack.

Douma is in the suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta. A chemical attack in eastern Ghouta in 2013 that was widely blamed on government forces killed hundreds of people, prompting the U.S. to threaten military action before later backing down.

Syria denies ever using chemical weapons during the seven-year civil war, and says it eliminated its chemical arsenal under a 2013 agreement brokered by the U.S. and Russia after the attack in eastern Ghouta.

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Syria war: ‘Gas attack’ kills child in Eastern Ghouta

February 26, 2018

Al Jazeera

Reports of chlorine gas attack emerge as Syrian government forces continue offensive against rebel-held Damascus suburb.

Many women and children were experiencing difficulty breathing, according to the White Helmets [Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]
Many women and children were experiencing difficulty breathing, according to the White Helmets [Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]

Health officials in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta are accusing Syrian government forces of using chlorine gas in their aerial bombardment campaign in the Damascus suburb.

Syria’s Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said on Sunday that at least one child died as a result of suffocation on their official Twitter account.

According to the Syrian opposition’s interim government, victims were showing symptoms “consistent with exposure to toxic chlorine gas”.

The opposition’s health ministry said in a statement that several people were admitted to medical facilities in nearby Al-Shifoniyah.

Symptoms include “dyspnea, intensive irritation of the mucus membrane, irritation of the eyes and dizziness”, the ministry said.

At least 18 people were treated with oxygen nebulising sessions, the statement added.

Several women and children were experiencing difficulty breathing, according to the White Helmets.

The reports of the gas attack come as President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces fight against opposition groups from multiple fronts, in an attempt to penetrate into the besieged enclave.

‘Front lines’

Eastern Ghouta has been under rebel control since 2013. Since, the Syrian government has imposed a siege on the suburb in an attempt to drive them out.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, said Al-Shifoniyah is a target as the “pro government alliance” are trying to hit areas in Eastern Ghouta close to the front lines.

“What the pro-government alliance is trying to do is target these areas on the edges of Ghouta to make it easier for their ground forces to push and advance,” she said.

“The government has not been able to take any inch of territory in Ghouta since the ground offensive began on Sunday,” she added.

The government’s continuous shelling has killed at least 16 civilians since Monday morning in one of Eastern Ghouta’s main towns, Douma, a local activist told Al Jazeera.

According to Alaa al-Ahmed, 10 of those who lost their lives on Monday were from the same family.

At least 27 people were killed on Sunday as a result of shelling by Russian-backed Syrian warplanes, which have been targeting various “districts and towns” across the Damascus suburb, according to Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Al Jazaeri, reporting from Eastern Ghouta.

The attacks come after the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favour of a resolution on Sunday, calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria.

Last week, deadly air strikes and artillery fire launched by Russian-backed Syrian forces exacerbated a dire humanitarian crisis in the besieged enclave, home to some 400,000 people.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), more than 500 civilians lost their lives as a result of the aerial bombardment campaign that began on February 18.

Earlier this week, the UN and other international bodies expressed outrage at the number of civilian casualties.

Hundreds of thousands of people have died in fighting during Syria’s seven-year civil war, and millions have been forced to flee the country.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/syria-war-gas-attack-kills-child-eastern-ghouta-180226061101606.html

Battles on 2 fronts as Syria closes out another violent year

December 31, 2017

Smoke rises following an air strike on the rebel-held besieged town of Harasta, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus (AFP)
BEIRUT: Government forces battled with rebels and Al-Qaeda militants on two fronts in Syria on Sunday as the country prepared to close out another violent year since the country descended into civil war in 2011.
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Rebels supported by an Al-Qaeda-linked cell renewed their assault against pro-government forces that have been holding a vast pocket of the Damascus suburbs under siege, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A second front between many of the same groups saw fresh fighting in northwest Syria, along the border between Idlib and Hama provinces, according to the Observatory and Syrian military media.
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The fighting outside Damascus was concentrated around the contested town of Harasta and a nearby military installation. The insurgents flanked the installation on Sunday, trapping an unknown number of pro-government forces inside, reported the Observatory. The local, activist-run Ghouta Media Center reported fierce clashes and dense government airstrikes.
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Twenty-one soldiers and 26 rebels and Al-Qaeda fighters were killed in two days of clashes, according to the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdurrahman.
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Rebels first attacked the installation seven weeks ago. The government responded with waves of indiscriminate air strikes and artillery attacks that killed more than 250 civilians in what are called the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, which are still under rebel control.
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The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said shelling and rocket fire killed 19 people in eastern Ghouta on Saturday, one day after medical evacuations were completed to save the lives of 29 others. The Red Cross and Red Crescent took three days to evacuate 29 patients from the besieged suburbs to receive urgent medical care at government hospitals in Damascus.
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The UN says government forces are holding 400,000 people under siege in eastern Ghouta. The region was once a hotbed of protest against President Bashar Assad’s government. The subsequent crackdown on demonstrations in Ghouta and other parts of the country in 2011 sparked the ongoing civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced half of Syria’s population.

Seven Syrian Rescue Volunteers — “White Helmets” — Killed in Shooting

August 12, 2017

BEIRUT — Seven volunteers with the Syrian civil defense rescue service were killed in a shooting by unidentified attackers in rebel-held Idlib province on Saturday, the civil defense said on its Twitter feed.

The attackers stole two vehicles and other equipment in the incident targeting a civil defense office in the town of Sarmin at dawn. Idlib province in northwestern Syria is controlled by Syrian rebels groups.

The civil defense, otherwise known as the “White Helmets”, operates in rebel-held areas of Syria.

(Writing by Tom Perry, editing by David Evans)

‘Suicide Squad’ brave bullets to rescue civilians in embattled Philippine town

July 3, 2017

Reuters

A group of rescue volunteers carry a body they found at the beginning of the fight between government troops and Maute group militants in Marawi, Philippines May 28, 2017. Picture taken May 28, 2017. Lanao del Sur Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office/Handout via REUTERS
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By Kanupriya Kapoor | MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES

Saripada Pacasum Jr. gagged and turned away the first time he came across a decomposing body in Marawi City, where hundreds have died since Islamic State-inspired fighters attempted to overrun the southern Philippines town six weeks ago.

But the rescue and recovery volunteer had no time to waste as gunfire rang out from government troop positions and militant snipers around him: he put on a pair of rubber gloves and helped carry the remains out of the conflict zone in a pick-up truck.

“I thought of resigning after that,” Pacasum, who works in a disaster relief office told Reuters. “I was scared and not prepared for this kind of job.”

But Pacasum, 39, continued to lead a team of about 30 young men and women who make near-daily forays to rescue civilians and retrieve victims in an urban battlefield that is infested with rebel snipers and battered by air strikes.

They have come to be known as the “white helmets” or “suicide squad” because of the risks they take when going in unarmed and wearing little protection other than white plastic construction helmets.

More than 460 people have been killed since the battle for Marawi began on May 23, including 82 members of the security forces and 44 civilians.

The military believes hundreds of civilians are still trapped by the conflict, the biggest internal security threat the Philippines has faced in decades and a shock to neighboring countries worried that Islamic State is trying to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia.

RESCUE MISSION

Fishermen, farmers, students, and small business owners, mostly from Marawi, are among those who have volunteered for rescue missions.

“We all grew up in Marawi and it breaks our hearts when we hear that Marawi is under siege,” said Abdul Azis Lomondot Jr., a 25-year-old university student, speaking in the team’s one-room office in the town’s capitol complex where many of the “white helmets” grab some sleep.

When the team gets a call from a trapped civilian or their evacuated relative, they first try to determine their location. Team leader Pacasum then asks for volunteers.

“We grab our helmets, IDs, a ladder, some small tools and we are good to go,” said Lomondot.

One such mission around three weeks into the siege almost went awry when the team drove into the conflict area in pick-up trucks but could not immediately find the house where four elderly people were known to be trapped.

“In that moment, I was panicking because I thought this may be an ambush,” Pacasum said as he and Lamondot recalled the mission. “We were just waiting for the sound of gunshots.”

After driving around for 20 minutes, the team finally located the house, but was shot at as they drove out with the civilians on board.

“TOO STRESSFUL”

As the siege drags on and the government pours troops into the lakeside town, soldiers have started providing cover for some of the rescue teams’ missions. Pacasum says that while this has obvious advantages, it can also mean they are more likely to be targeted by the militants.

The team has also received counseling and equipment from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and training on how to properly handle cadavers.

Pacasum, who has led more 10 rescue missions, wants to see the battle through to the end, but will consider changing professions when it’s over.

“It’s too stressful, he said.

“Some of the volunteers … they are just young kids, they are very aggressive. I’m more cautious. I have kids and I want to watch them grow old.”

(Editing by John Chalmers, Robert Birsel)

Russian jets drop incendiary bombs in Syria’s Idlib, Hama

April 10, 2017

Reuters

Syrian or Russian warplanes dropped incendiary bombs on areas of Idlib and Hama provinces just days after a deadly gas attack in the region, activists and a monitoring group reported on Monday.

Moscow and the Syrian army were not immediately available for comment.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian jets had used an incendiary substance called thermite in bombs they dropped over the towns of Saraqeb in Idlib and al-Latamenah in Hama, further south, on Saturday and Sunday.

A rescue worker in Saraqeb said warplanes had dropped phosphorus bombs there, but he had not heard of the use of thermite. He said use of phosphorus was not a new development.

“It’s normal, these are often used,” said Laith Abdullah of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, a rescue group working in rebel-held areas.

Videos posted on social media purportedly from Saraqeb on Sunday showed flaming materials hitting the ground and spreading large fires.

The Observatory said thermite had first been used in the Syrian conflict in June 2016 by the Syrian government.

The bombings came after the United States launched cruise missiles at an air base in western Syria on Friday. The missile strike was a response to what Washington said was a gas attack by Syrian warplanes in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib that killed scores.

Syria denies using chemical substances and denies it carried out the attack.

The Observatory reported Syrian warplanes took off from the same air base less than a day after the U.S. attack and carried out air strikes on rebel-held areas.

(Reporting by John Davison, editing by Larry King)

‘Russia accusing West of using propaganda to derail political process on Syria’ — Survivors tell a different story — Most of the world blames Assad — Obama’s “red line”

April 6, 2017

AFP

Watch the latest French and international news.
 
 

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Survivors of Syrian attack describe chemical bombs falling from sky

This story contains graphic imagery.

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(CNN) Survivors of a deadly airstrike in Syria have described chemical bombs being dropped from planes, in accounts that directly contradicted the Assad regime’s version chemical bombsof a dawn attack that drew condemnation around the world.

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Video shows effects of Syria attack

Video shows effects of Syria attack 01:23
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The White House and the UK blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for the attack that struck the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun while many were still asleep.
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The strike, one of the deadliest of its kind since the Syrian war began six years ago, killed at least 70 people, including children.
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Syria denied it used chemical weapons. Russia asserted the deaths resulted from a gas released when a regime airstrike hit a “terrorist” chemical weapons factory on the ground. But survivors being treated in a hospital on the Turkish side of the border told a CNN team they saw chemical bombs dropped from the air.
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The World Health Organization said victims bore the signs of exposure to nerve agents, and Amnesty International said evidence pointed to an “air-launched chemical attack.” International agencies are investigating the origin of the agents used in the strike.
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At the United Nations, Western powers lambasted Russia for standing by the Syrian regime.
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Key developments

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  • Chemical weapons expert: Russia’s explanation of events is “highly implausible.”
  • US President Donald Trump said the attack changed his views on Syria and Assad.
  • Medical experts said the attack was likely the result of a nerve agent, such as sarin gas.
  • The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting but didn’t vote on a resolution.

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War of words

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A child receives treatment Tuesday at an Idlib province hospital after a suspected chemical attack.

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Trump called the attack on innocent civilians an “affront to humanity,” saying it had changed his views on Syria and Assad. “These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated,” Trump said.
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“It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies … with a chemical gas that is so lethal that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines — beyond a red line.”
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The Russian Defense Ministry said on its Facebook page that a Syrian airstrike hit “workshops, which produced chemical warfare munitions” on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun. It said “terrorists” had been transporting the chemical munitions from their largest arsenal to Iraq.
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Dan Kaszeta, a chemical weapons specialist, told CNN the Russian version of events was “highly implausible.”
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“Nerve agents are the result of a very expensive, exotic, industrial chemical process — these are not something you just whip up,” said Kaszeta, managing director of Strongpoint Security, a security consulting firm based in London.
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“It’s much more plausible that Assad, who’s used nerve agents in the past, is using them again.”
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Image may contain: one or more people and people sleeping

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Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on 4 April (AFP/Getty Images)

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Hours after the attack, several people were injured when an airstrike hit near a hospital in the same town. Survivors of the earlier attack were being treated there, the Aleppo Media Center activist group reported.
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The hospital was knocked out of service, said the Syrian Civil Defense rescue group, known as the White Helmets.
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Victim: ‘I don’t know if my family is dead or alive’

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Mazin Yusif, a 13-year-old-boy, broke down in tears at the Reyhanli Hospital in southern Turkey near the Syrian border. About 25 survivors of Tuesday’s attack are being treated there, and several said they saw a plane drop chemical bombs.
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Mazin Yusif, 13, tells a harrowing story of being caught up in the apparent chemical attack.

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“At 6:30 in the morning, the plane struck. I ran up on our roof and saw that the strike was in front of my grandfather’s house,” Mazin told CNN.
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He said he ran toward his house and found his grandfather slumped over. He ran outside to call for help. “I got dizzy and then fainted in front of my grandfather’s garage. I next found myself here in this hospital, naked in a bed.”
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Aisha al-Tilawi, 55, says she lost three members of her family in Tuesday's attack.

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The boy’s grandmother, Aisha al-Tilawi, 55, said she saw blue and yellow after the plane dropped a chemical-laden bomb.
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“We started choking, felt dizzy, then fainted. Mazin was trying to wake up his grandfather. Three of my family died,” she said, lying in bed with an oxygen mask on her face.
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Ahmed Abdel Rahim, 31, says he has no idea of his family's whereabouts after the attack.

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Another survivor, Ahmed Abdel Rahim, 31, stared vacantly from his hospital bed while explaining he was hit with a poisonous substance carried by three rockets.
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“I was in my house. I had difficulty breathing, but I feel better now. But I did throw up after getting to the hospital. I don’t know if my family is dead or alive. I don’t know anything,” he said.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow’s Kremlin, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006. (AP Photo/ Mikhail Klementiev, ITAR-TASS, Presidential Press Service)

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Worldwide condemnation

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WHO said some victims showed symptoms consistent with exposure to a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents. That conclusion was supported by Amnesty International, which said victims were “very likely” to have been exposed to a compound such as sarin.
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Warning, Graphic Images
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John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in 2013. They engineered a deal to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. AP photo

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Kerry and Lavrov.

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White Helmet rescue workers try to find children buried in the wrechage of Aleppos by Russian and Syrian Bombing — after the Obama Adminstration withdrew from the Middle East.

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John KerrySecretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at The U.S. Department of State. CREDIT: 2016 GETTY IMAGES/2016 GETTY IMAGES

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 (From the BBC)

GETTY IMAGES

Airstrikes Escalate Despite Syria Cease-Fire

January 12, 2017

BEIRUT — The U.N. envoy for Syria said Thursday that a cease-fire was “largely holding with some exceptions,” as opposition activists reported a mounting number of government airstrikes, including a raid in the northern Aleppo province that killed at least six civilians.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Staffan de Mistura said he was concerned that fighting northwest of Damascus that has cut off the capital’s clean water supply would further escalate and derail proposed negotiations between the government and the opposition in Astana, Kazakhstan, later this month.

The talks are sponsored by Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides of the Syrian civil war. But the status of the meeting, planned for Jan. 23, is not clear. Rebels say the government’s continued campaign for the Barada Valley, the capital’s main source of water, has cast the talks in doubt.

The U.N. says the capital has suffered from a water shortage affecting 5.5 million consumers since December 22.

The leader of one of Syria’s largest rebel factions, the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham, said in remarks aired Thursday that the violence in the valley and daily airstrikes on rebel-held areas “are signs of a collapsing truce.”

De Mistura said five villages in the Wadi Barada area have reached an “arrangement” with the government, but two villages, including one which holds the source of water, al-Fijeh, have not.

“There is a danger, a substantial danger, imminent danger, that this may develop into a further military escalation,” further imperiling the water supply, he said.

He also said the cease-fire, which came into effect Dec. 30, should widen humanitarian access to besieged areas, but that “unfortunately, that is not the case.”

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, a search and rescue group also known as the White Helmets, said its workers pulled the bodies of three children and three adults from the rubble of an airstrike on the village of Babka in the opposition-held countryside west of the once-contested city of Aleppo.

It was not clear who was behind the raid and others like it in the Aleppo countryside. Syrian and Russian aircraft regularly bombed the province before the cease-fire went into effect. The U.S. is believed to be behind a series of strikes in the neighboring Idlib province that activists say have killed several Al-Qaida-linked militants.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported four children among the dead.

The raid followed a day of strikes on two opposition pockets outside the capital, Damascus. The strikes on the Ghouta region, where pro-government forces are waging a ground offensive against rebels, were the first since the cease-fire came into effect, according to the Observatory. Another six civilians were killed in an airstrike on the Barada Valley Wednesday.

In Damascus itself, a suicide bomber killed at least seven people near a sporting club in an upscale neighborhood housing security offices, Syrian state TV reported. The target of the attack was not immediately known.

It is not clear how the ongoing violence may affect the talks expected on Jan. 23 in Astana, Kazakhstan. Little is clear about what is on the agenda of the negotiations or who will be attending.

“We had clearly rejected this truce because it is tied to an unspecific political solution that we were not part of drafting,” Ali al-Omar, the head of Ahrar al-Sham, said in his first recorded interview, which was posted online. “The guarantor is Russia, an occupying force to Syria that came in support of the regime. Additionally, other factions were excluded from this truce, which is a pretext” for continued attacks by the government and its allies.

The government says the Fatah al-Sham Front, an al-Qaida-linked group allied with Ahrar al-Sham, and the Islamic State group are excluded from the truce. Moscow has pushed for declaring Ahrar al-Sham a terrorist group, despite the fact that it is taking part in a Turkey-backed operation against the IS group in northern Syria.

The Russian military said Thursday it had sent four warplanes to Syria and withdrawn six others as part of an ongoing rotation of forces.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said six Su-24 bombers have flown back to Russia and some other warplanes are preparing to leave the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.

Image may contain: airplane, sky, cloud and outdoor

Su-24M Fencer Bomber

At the same time, Konashenkov said that four Su-25 ground attack jets have arrived at Hemeimeem, which serves as the hub for the Russian air campaign in Syria.

In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to scale back its presence in Syria. Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and accompanying ships left the eastern Mediterranean last week and are heading back to their home base.

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Keaten reported from Geneva. Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

Aleppo in Syria Now Without Hospitals, Most of Civilian Infrastructure Destroyed

November 20, 2016

AFP and Reuters

© Georges Ourfalian, AFP | Syrian pro-government forces have been besieging the rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo, once Syria’s most populous city, since July.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2016-11-19

All hospitals in Syria’s besieged rebel-held eastern Aleppo are out of service after days of heavy air strikes, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Saturday, while a war monitor said some were still open but too dangerous to reach.

White House national security adviser Susan Rice said the United States condemned “in the strongest terms” the latest air strikes against hospitals and urged Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to take steps to halt the violence.

Intense air strikes have battered the eastern part of the city since Tuesday, when the Syrian army and its allies resumed operations after a pause lasting weeks. They launched ground attacks against insurgent positions on Friday.

The war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 48 people, including at least five children, had been killed in eastern Aleppo on Saturday by dozens of air strikes and barrel bombs and dozens of artillery rounds.

That brings the number of people killed by the increased bombardment of Aleppo and the surrounding countryside over the past five days to about 180, including 97 in the city’s besieged eastern sector, the observatory added.

Warplanes, artillery and helicopters continued bombarding eastern Aleppo on Saturday, hitting many of its densely populated residential districts, the Observatory said. There were intense clashes in the Bustan al-Basha district, it added.

“This destruction of infrastructure essential to life leaves the besieged, resolute people, including all children and elderly men and women, without any health facilities offering life-saving treatment … leaving them to die,” said Aleppo’s health directorate in a statement sent to Reuters late on Friday by an opposition official.

Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Syria, said on Saturday that a UN-led group of aid agencies based over the border in Turkey “confirmed today that all hospitals in eastern Aleppo are out of service”.

‘Sickening’

The monitoring group said some hospitals were still operating in besieged parts of Aleppo but said many residents were frightened to use them because of the heavy shelling.

Medical sources, residents and rebels in eastern Aleppo say hospitals have been damaged by air strikes and helicopter barrel bombs in recent days, including direct hits on the buildings.

“The United States again joins our partners … in demanding the immediate cessation of these bombardments and calling on Russia to immediately deescalate violence and facilitate humanitarian aid and access for the Syrian people,” Rice said in a statement.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted that reports of air strikes hitting civilians and hospitals in east Aleppo were “sickening” and called for a return to diplomacy.

However, with the United States awaiting the inauguration in late January of President-elect Donald Trump, who has been critical of Washington’s Syria policy without laying out detailed plans himself, diplomatic efforts appear stalled.

Staffan De Mistura, the special envoy of the UN secretary general, is likely to meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moalem in Damascus on Sunday after recent talks in Turkey and Iran, another diplomat said.

“He will push on Aleppo, perhaps on a ceasefire, but on the political file there won’t be anything until (U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon’s successor Antonio) Guterres is in office, the diplomat said.

Denial

Both Russia and Assad’s government have denied deliberately targeting hospitals and other civilian infrastructure during the war, which began in 2011 and was joined by Russia’s air force in September 2015.

Russia unilaterally called a ceasefire in late October and said on Saturday it was now only striking against groups that are not also observing it. Rebel groups in Aleppo have all said they do not recognise the Russian ceasefire.

The charity Doctors Without Borders said in a message there had been more than 30 hits on hospitals in eastern Aleppo since early July. “Doctors are few and medical supplies are depleted, with no possibility of sending more supplies in,” it said.

Health and rescue workers have previously been able to bring damaged hospitals back into operation but a lack of supplies is making that harder.

The Syrian war pits Assad and his allies Russia, Iran and Shiite militias against Sunni rebels including groups supported by the United States, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies and also jihadist groups.

Aleppo, for years split between a rebel-held east and government-held western sector, has become the fiercest front.

An army offensive backed by a major aerial bombardment from late September to late October killed hundreds, according to the United Nations, and tightened the siege, leaving eastern Aleppo with little food, medicine or fuel.

A rebel counter-attack early this month involved shelling that killed dozens of civilians, the UN said, but it quickly petered out and the army and its allies, including Hezbollah and Iraqi militias, reversed all insurgent gains in about two weeks.

Syrian state television said on Tuesday the air force had targeted “terrorist strongholds and supply depots” in Aleppo. Russia has said its air force is only conducting air strikes in other parts of Syria. The Damascus government describes all the rebels fighting it as terrorists.

(REUTERS)

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US slams ‘heinous’ attacks on rebel-held Aleppo

November 19, 2016

AFP

© AFP / by Karam al-Masri | Syrians comfort each other on November 19, 2016 following a reported air strike on Aleppo’s rebel-held neighbourhood of Bab al-Nayrab

ALEPPO (SYRIA) (AFP) – Syria’s government pounded rebel-held Aleppo with air strikes and artillery fire on Saturday, killing 27 people and prompting Washington to condemn the “heinous actions” of Damascus and its ally Russia.

UN officials said they were “appalled” by escalating violence and urged access to east Aleppo, where more than 250,000 people have been under siege for nearly four months.

Since it began on Tuesday, the assault on the rebel-held east of Aleppo has damaged hospitals, forced schools to close, and killed nearly 100 civilians, according to a monitor.

An AFP correspondent described relentless bombardment with air strikes, mortar rounds and barrel bombs slamming into residential neighbourhoods where residents cowered at home.

“It is a catastrophic day in besieged Aleppo with unprecedented bombardment with every type of weapon,” a member of the White Helmets rescue group said in a video posted on the organisation’s Facebook page.

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Washington condemned “in the strongest terms these horrific attacks against medical infrastructure and humanitarian aid workers.”

“There is no excuse for these heinous actions,” she said in a statement.

“The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia in particular, bears responsibly for the immediate and long-term consequences these actions have caused in Syria and beyond.”

Moscow says it is not involved in the current assault on Aleppo, concentrating its firepower on opposition and jihadist forces in neighbouring Idlib instead.

But Damascus and its allies have made clear they want rebels expelled from eastern Aleppo, which fell from regime control in mid-2012.

– UN officials ‘appalled’ –

Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the war that has killed more than 300,000 people since it began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

No aid has entered east Aleppo since government forces surrounded it in July, and residents report shortages of food and fuel, as well as lengthy power outages and water shortages.

Two top UN officials said they were “extremely saddened and appalled by the recent escalation in fighting in several parts of Syria.”

Humanitarian coordinator for Syria Ali al-Za’atari and regional humanitarian coordinator Kevin Kennedy also said they had shared a plan to deliver aid, and evacuate the sick and wounded from east Aleppo.

“It is imperative all parties agree to the plan and allow us to secure immediate, safe and unimpeded access to provide relief to those most in need,” they said.

The relentless bombardment forced schools in east Aleppo, many of which already operate from basements because of government attacks, to close Saturday and Sunday “for the safety of students and teachers, after the barbarous aerial strikes”.

Hospitals and rescue facilities have been particularly affected, with shelling destroying one of the last medical facilities in the east on Friday.

Staff were also forced to evacuate the east’s only children’s hospital because of repeated attacks, removing babies from incubators to transfer them.

“This is a dark day for east Aleppo,” said Teresa Sancristoval, emergency coordinator for the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity.

“The severity of the bombing has inflicted huge damage on the few hospitals working around the clock to provide medical care.”

– ‘No more body bags’ –

A White Helmets centre in the Bab al-Nayrab district was also destroyed in an air strike on Friday, and rescuers have struggled to cope with the pace with of the bombing.

“We have no more (body) bags,” said one rescue worker in another video posted Saturday by the group.

The Observatory said at least 27 civilians were killed in east Aleppo on Saturday, with the toll likely to rise because of the number of seriously wounded.

The deaths brought the eath toll since Tuesday to 92, with state media saying two people were also killed in rebel fire on the government-held west of Aleppo on Saturday.

The assault on rebel-held Aleppo has ended a period of relative respite after Russia halted its strikes and organised a series of brief truces to encourage residents and surrendering rebels to leave.

Syria expert Thomas Pierret said regime forces “intended to combine air strikes with famine resulting from the siege to get rebels to surrender”.

Elsewhere, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces said they had seized the hilltop village of Tal Saman from the Islamic State group.

The village is 25 kilometres (15 miles) from IS’s de facto Syrian capital of Raqa, which the SDF began an operation to capture earlier this month with support from the US-led coalition against IS.

The Observatory reported seven civilians were killed in an air strike believed to have been carried out by the coalition on the village of Buaas in northern Raqa province.

by Karam al-Masri