x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

'Soon there will be nothing left to destroy in Aleppo', activist says

Rebels say they will fight on as shelling kills several people queuing for bread in the flashpoint city's Tariq Al Bab district.

A Free Syrian Army fighter fires at government troops in Aleppo on Friday.
A Free Syrian Army fighter fires at government troops in Aleppo on Friday.

ALEPPO // Syrian rebels were running low on ammunition and guns yesterday as government forces tried to consolidate their control over Aleppo, where several people died when a shell crashed into a bakery as hundreds queued for bread.

Witnesses said that about a dozen people were killed and 20 wounded at the bakery in the increasingly desperate city. At least three children were among the dead in the eastern Tariq Al Bab district of Syria's commercial capital.

Meanwhile, government troops repelled a rebel attack on Aleppo's international airport, the state news agency Sana reported.

"Mercenary terrorists" had tried to attack it but the "army hit back and killed most of them", the news agency said.

Rebels vowed to fight on in Aleppo, a day after reports said they were driven out of a key district under heavy shellfire. Yesterday, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) official, calling himself Abu Bashir, said reports that the rebels were forced out of the Salaheddin neighbourhood were false.

"It was a brief tactical retreat because we ran out of ammunition," he said. "We were resupplied by donors in the city and we exerted our presence in the neighbourhood again. We are very much in control of events."

Aleppo holds great symbolic and strategic importance. About 40 kilometres from the Turkish border, it has been crucial to the regime of Bashar Al Assad during the uprising against his rule. An opposition victory in the city would be a boost to Syrian rebels who operate out of Turkey.

An Aleppo-based activist said government forces were shelling rebel-controlled areas in the south-western part of Aleppo and in the north-east.

Towns and villages in Aleppo suburbs were "at the mercy" of fighter jets and helicopters strafing the area, he said.

"Soon there will be nothing left to destroy in Aleppo ... The regime is using air power without shame," he said.

The seemingly intractable conflict, which started 17 months ago, has defied all international attempts to find a solution.

But rebels and activists said they have had enough of diplomacy and appealed to the international community to send weapons.

"The warplanes and helicopters are killing us, they're up there in the sky 15 hours a day," said Mohammad Al Hassan, an activist in Salaheddin.

"It's warplanes against Kalashnikovs, tanks fighting against rifles," he said. "I don't know how long this situation can be sustained."

Throughout the afternoon the sound of bomb attacks and anti-aircraft reprisal boomed throughout rebel-held areas of the city.

A bomb narrowly missed an operations centre for the rebels. It exploded in an empty courtyard, leaving a 1.5-metre crater and dozens of dazed rebel fighters. FSA fighters scampered to evacuate the building, in Aleppo's rebel-held Masaken Hananu area, which housed an operations planning room, a media centre and food-distribution facility for residents.

Few dared to step out into the streets in Masaken Hananu. Most shops remain shuttered.

The bombings have halted municipal services, causing the stench of mounting refuse piles to permeate the city.

Activists in the city said they have found it increasingly difficult to operate because of the punishing air assaults.

Protesters across many parts of the country rallied after midday prayers yesterday, urging the international community to arm opposition fighters.

"Give us anti-aircraft guns. Where is your conscience?" read a small poster held by a protester in the village of Kfar Zeita in the central Hama province.

In Damascus, residents reported shelling of the south-eastern district of Shebaa and said nine tanks could be seen on the road heading out to the airport. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five civilians were among 56 people killed nationwide yesterday.

Activists working with foreign journalists have been sleeping from house to house out of fear they are being followed, they said. During the day they also track the grisly death toll of the fighting.

"There were seven martyrs lined up in a house just down the street [on Thursday]," said Abed Birinjeh, 25, a Syrian who grew up in Greece who returned to Aleppo to help FSA fighters.

"One of the bodies didn't have a head. His father came up to me and identified him. He knew it was his son because he could recognise the clothes.

"I didn't know what to say. What do you tell a man whose son's head is missing?"

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press