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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

High civilian death toll from rebel offensive in western Aleppo

More than a third of those killed since October 28 were children.
The Syrian Civil Defence and citizens search the rubble of buildings hit by air strikes in Darat Izza town, in rural western Aleppo province, on November 5, 2016. Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP
The Syrian Civil Defence and citizens search the rubble of buildings hit by air strikes in Darat Izza town, in rural western Aleppo province, on November 5, 2016. Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP

BEIRUT // At least 74 civilians, including 25 children, were killed in the 8-day-old offensive launched by Syrian opposition fighters against the western edge of the government-held part of Aleppo city.

Opposition fighters launched the protracted attack on October 28 on government-held Aleppo, aiming to break a months-long government-imposed siege on the eastern part of the city they control. They have since advanced on a number of neighbourhoods on the city’s western edge, capturing Al Assad district and Minian village as pro-government forces fought back to regain control.

The Syrian military said the first three days of the rebel offensive killed more than 80 people.

Rights groups and the UN have sharply criticised the opposition groups for the indiscriminate shelling of western Aleppo districts. Such criticism has largely been reserved for the government and its allies for indiscriminate bombing of residential areas.

Prior to the rebel offensive and in less than a month, more than 400 civilians, many of them children, have been killed in bombings that also hit a school and medical facilities, and nearly 2,000 wounded in rebel-held Aleppo and surrounding areas.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that three civilian deaths were recorded in rebel-held Aleppo districts in the past week. Russia had declared a halt on airstrikes on the besieged part of the city since October 18. But there were reports of air strikes on the city’s edge and in rural areas.

On Friday, a renewed 10-hour Russian offer of a moratorium on airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Aleppo expired. None of the area’s estimated 275,000 residents evacuated the territory, as was urged by Russian and Syrian officials. There were fears that a punishing aerial campaign would resume on the city after the expiration.

There were no reports of air strikes in the city by Saturday afternoon

However, Syrian activists reported air strikes on western rural Aleppo province against rebel positions.

Footage from the activist-run Thiqa News Agency allegedly showed missiles targeting the town of Darat Izza in north-western Aleppo province. A team of first responders known as the Syrian Civil Defence, or White Helmets, said at least three people were killed in the air strikes and 15 others wounded.

There has been an intense aerial bombing campaign in the western Aleppo countryside and nearby Idlib province. Rebels said it appeared to be an attempt to sever the rebels supply lines.

An insurgent alliance, known as the Army of Conquest and which includes the Al Qaeda-linked group Jabhat Fatah Al Sham, has led the attack on western Aleppo.

It is the second time insurgents have tried to break the siege imposed on the territory since July. An earlier offensive that breached the siege in August for a few weeks was repelled, and the seal on eastern Aleppo reimposed.

Abu Saeed Al Halabi, a Dutch member of Fatah Al Sham based in Aleppo, said Russia has intensified its air trikes during the insurgent-led offensive on Aleppo’s western countryside, “the proposed end destination” for the potential evacuees from eastern Aleppo. He said that the aerial campaign has not curtailed the rebel offensive.

“This offensive will take longer than previous ones because the attacks take place in urban areas and the regime militias have a lot to lose if this siege is broken,” he said.

*Associated Press

Updated: November 6, 2016 04:00 AM

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