Syria's civil war: Qatar seeks end to Aleppo onslaught

Qatar has called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League and urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities” as the Syrian government keeps up its air offensive on the northern city of Aleppo.

Government warplanes and helicopter gunships launched new air strikes on Saturday on Aleppo’s rebel-held neighbourhoods, killing at least eight people, officials said.

In the rebel-held east, dozens of civilians left the Bustan al-Qasr district on the ninth straight day of the Syrian onslaught, an AFP news agency correspondent said.

The few people out on the streets watched the sky anxiously for government warplanes, running for shelter when one launched a new raid.

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Against this backdrop, the Syrian opposition accused the government of committing war crimes on civilians.

Speaking after a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, of the Syrian National Coalition, Anas al-Abdeh, the group’s leader, said: “Aleppo has been reeling under intense, ferocious bombardment. It is a systematic campaign. Therefore our meeting today focused on the situation in the besieged area, including Aleppo city.

“It is clear that the regime’s uninterrupted shelling and air strikes amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“They attacked medical facilities, residential areas and a bakery catering to more than 300 families.”

Conflict’s worst fighting

Once Syria’s economic hub, Aleppo and its surrounding countryside have suffered some of the worst fighting in a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.

At least 246 civilians have died in shelling, rocket fire and air strikes in both sides of the city since April 22, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitor said.

The Britain-based SOHR, which relies on a network of sources on the ground, reported 28 air strikes on eastern neighbourhoods.

But in its daily report on Syria, Russia’s defence ministry said it had recorded only “three ceasefire violations in the city of Aleppo”, blaming them all on the rebels.

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The SANA state news agency said shelling of western government-held neighbourhoods killed three civilians including a child, and blamed Al-Nusra Front and its allies.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Louay Safi, former Syrian opposition leader, said there was no internationally agreed plan for the current truce.

There is an all-out war on Aleppo,” he said.

“The intensity of bombing is very high. They are hitting water facilities, public facilities … the regime hasn’t spared anybody.

“A large number of people have been killed in Aleppo and many of those who have been hurt are elderly and children. They are targeting residential areas, using barrel bombs which are indiscriminate.”

A pro-government newspaper said on Thursday the army was preparing an offensive to recapture all of Aleppo and the surrounding province.

Battleground Aleppo

Some families have fled to safer districts, while others have left by the dangerous Castello road, the only route out of near-besieged east Aleppo.

Hospitals have also been bombed the ongoing violence in Aleppo.

Four medical facilities were hit on Friday on both sides of the front line, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

A raid on Wednesday hit a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders and the ICRC as well as nearby housing, killing 30 people and sparking an international outcry.

Aleppo was left out of a new temporary US-Russian brokered truce that appeared to be holding in the government stronghold of Latakia as well as Damascus and the nearby rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.

Fighting halted at 1am on Saturday (22:00 GMT Friday) in a “freeze” set to last for 24 hours in Damascus and Eastern Ghouta, and 72 hours in Latakia.

Elsewhere, in the eastern province of Deir Az Zor, a couple and their two daughters were killed in strikes by unidentified aircraft on a village held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, the SOHR said.

In northeastern Syria, a suicide bomber killed five Kurdish policemen at a checkpoint in the city of Qamishli, police said.

Diplomatic moves

On the diplomatic front, John Kerry, US secretary of state, was to travel on Sunday to Geneva in a show of support for the truce and will meet the UN envoy to Syria and the Jordanian and Saudi foreign ministers.

The state department said his talks will focus on “efforts to reaffirm the cessation of hostilities nationwide in Syria”.

A new round of UN-backed peace talks is set to start on May 10 in Geneva.

Russia said that it would not ask Syria to halt the air raids on Aleppo.

“No, we are not going to put pressure on [Syria] because one must understand that the situation in Aleppo is part of this fight against the terrorist threat,” Gennady Gatilov, deputy foreign minister, said.

The US has appealed to Russia to keep President Bashar al-Assad’s government in check.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial hub, is not part of a temporary, partial ceasefire effective elsewhere [Al Jazeera]

The Qatari request to the Arab League came in the form of a memo to the Arab League’s general-secretariat to discuss “the dangerous escalation seen in Aleppo where civilians are subjected to massacres at the hands of the forces of the Syrian regime, which has led to the deaths and injuries of hundreds”.

Qatar’s state news agency said Mohammed bin Jassim Al Thani, the foreign minister, made phone calls to his Turkish, French and British counterparts to discuss the humanitarian situation in Aleppo “in light of the brutal shelling and air strikes of the regime forces in Syria targeting civilians and residential areas”.

Saying that the assault was in defiance of all international charters and principles, he called for the international community to “to stop the ongoing massacre and protect the Syrian people”.

A similar message was conveyed by Sultan bin Saad Al Meraikhi, Qatar’s assistant foreign minister, in a phone call to Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, according to Qatar’s state news agency QNA.

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Saudi Arabia has also called on the international community and allies of Assad who had committed themselves to the “cessation of hostilities” to take necessary measures to stop “the attacks and crimes against the people of Syria”.

In a positive development, humanitarian convoys carrying food and medicine meanwhile entered the besieged rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani, northwest of Damascus, the ICRC said on Saturday.

At the same time, trucks entered the besieged government-held towns of Fouaa and Kefraya, southwest of Aleppo.

Madaya became infamous in late 2015 after dozens died of starvation there.


Source: Al Jazeera and agencies