x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Syria toll 'staggering' as Aleppo shelling kills 19

UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi described the death toll in Syria as "staggering" and destruction "catastrophic".

DAMASCUS // Syrian forces shelled rebel zones in Aleppo killing 19 people, a watchdog reported, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi described the death toll in Syria as "staggering" and destruction "catastrophic".

Fighting began before dawn and left 10 civilians dead in Aleppo's southern neighbourhood of Bustan Al Qasr while a total of nine bodies, including those of children, were found in the Marjeh and Hanano neighbourhoods, the Britain-based watchdog said.

Activists have reported relentless bombardments and food shortages in rebel-held districts of the country's commercial capital, while an AFP reporter who was in the city yesterday said life in the loyalist-controlled central area was relatively normal.

Rebels meanwhile, launched an attack today on a military airport in the town of Albu Kamal in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor near the Iraqi border, the Observatory said.

"Fighting has been going on for hours inside Hamdan airport between soldiers and rebels, who have taken over large sections of the site," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that at least six rebels died in the assault.

Having failed to persuade the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, the rebel Free Syrian Army has increasingly targeted airports used by Syria's regime as launchpads for attack helicopters and fighter jets.

The Observatory also reported that several areas in Damascus province including Yalda village just south of the capital were bombarded by regime forces, while the southern district of Tadamun in Damascus itself was shelled.

Local activists reported plumes of smoke hanging over the neighbourhood after Tadamun came under artillery and mortar fire, with helicopters also overhead.

The Observatory, in its daily toll of deaths countrywide, said at least 119 people were killed across Syria yesterday — 79 civilians, 28 soldiers and 12 rebels.

In a preliminary toll for today, it said 21 civilians and six rebels had died, including the 19 people killed in Aleppo.

The ever-rising death toll was highlighted by Brahimi when he made his first address to the United Nations General Assembly since replacing Kofi Annan as UN-Arab League special envoy on Saturday.

"The death toll is staggering, the destruction is reaching catastrophic proportions and the suffering of the people is immense," he said in a speech on Tuesday to the 193-member assembly in New York, during which he announced he would travel to Damascus in a few days.

Mr Brahimi warned that the civil war was "deteriorating steadily" and said a coordinated international approach on Syria was "indispensable and very urgent."