x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Syrian rebels attack world inaction during Cairo protest

In Aleppo, the battle for Syria's second-largest airport intensifies as regime troops try to reverse recent strategic gains the rebels have made in the north-east.

BEIRUT // Syria's opposition chief Ahmed Moaz Al Khatib yesterday turned on world governments for their failure to act to stop the bloodshed in the civil war.

Mr Al Khatib was taking part in a demonstration in Cairo which he described as "a message of protest to all governments of the world, Arab and non-Arab, that can see how the Syrian people are being killed, while they merely look on.

"All the administrations of the world can see what is happening. We cannot visit any country until there is a clear decision on this savage, aggressive regime."

The opposition coalition said on Friday it would boycott the next Friends of Syria meeting in Rome and has cancelled visits to Washington and Moscow because of the "shameful" inaction, nearly two years into a war that has left about 70,000 people dead.

The opposition wants world governments to act on their statements of support for the uprising against the regime of Bashar Al Assad, and are seeking military assistance for rebels.

In Aleppo yesterday the battle for Syria's second-largest airport intensified as regime troops tried to reverse recent strategic gains the rebels have made in the north-east.

Mr Al Assad's forces have been locked in a stalemate with rebels in Aleppo since July when the city became a major battlefield. Rebels have been trying to capture the international airport for months.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the fighting was focused on a section of a road linking the airport with Aleppo, the commercial hub of the nation.

The rebels have cut off the road, which the army has been using to transport troops and supplies to a military base within the airport complex. Rebels have made other advances in the battle for the complex in recent weeks, including capturing two army bases along the road to the airport.

The rebels also control large swaths of land outside Aleppo and whole neighbourhoods inside the city, which is divided between areas controlled by the regime and others held by rebels.

On Friday, regime forces fired three missiles into a rebel-held area in eastern Aleppo, hitting several buildings and killing 29 people, according to the Observatory. The group initially reported 14 casualties in the strike that apparently involved ground-to-ground missiles. Some bodies were recovered from the rubble of damaged buildings.

In Damascus, rebel advances combined with bombings and three straight days of mortar attacks this week marked the most sustained challenge to the heart of the capital, the seat of Mr Al Assad's power.

But efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria so far have failed, leaving the international community at a loss over how to end the civil war.

The UN Security Council has been blocked from acting on Syria by Russian and Chinese vetoes, while western powers have become more hesitant to help the armed opposition to the Assad regime for fear of the rise of radical Islamist groups.

National Coalition spokesman Walid Al Bunni said yesterday the United States must honour promises of support for democracy in Syria.

"Our visit to Washington is on hold until Washington takes a stance that is in accordance with US statements on its support for democracy," Mr Al Bunni said.

"The United States is a leading force in the world, as are France, Britain and the European Union. All these have been unable to stop a butcher from committing massacres against our people.

"We cannot continue listening to statements that are not accompanied by action. The world has a responsibility to protect the Syrian people from a butcher who has been slaughtering them for two years."

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press