x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Syrian war 'worsening', says UN envoy

Lakhdar Brahimi told the 15-nation UN Security Council that the Syrian government estimates there are 5,000 foreign fighters in the country, and is increasingly portraying the conflict as a 'foreign conspiracy'.

UNITED NATIONS // The UN-Arab League envoy yesterday told the UN Security Council that the Syrian civil war was getting worse and that the country faces a growing food crisis.

Lakhdar Brahimi told the 15-nation council that the Syrian government estimates there are 5,000 foreign fighters in the country, and is increasingly portraying the conflict as a "foreign conspiracy", envoys at the closed meeting said.

He said he saw no immediate end to the civil war.

"There is no prospect for today or tomorrow to move forward," Mr Brahimi said, after briefing the Security Council about his recent talks with Syria's president, Bashar Al Assad.

Mr Brahimi told the council the torture of detainees was "routine" and said people were now afraid to go to hospitals that were in the hands of government forces.

The envoy estimated that 1.5 million people had fled their homes and said Syria faced growing food shortages because harvests had been slashed by the fighting between government forces and opposition rebels.

A report by the British charity Save the Children documents some of the atrocities that, according to activists, have left thousands of children dead and many more traumatised.

The report, released yesterday, compiles 18 first-hand accounts from Syrian refugee children.

"Every crime against children must be recorded to send a clear message to all sides in the conflict that these atrocities will not be tolerated," the organisation said.

Also yesterday, Syrian planes bombed two buildings in the northern city of Aleppo, killing at least five people, including three children from the same family, activists said.

The Britain-based activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the death toll could very well rise, with more people feared to be buried under the rubble of the two destroyed buildings.

An Aleppo-based activist, Mohammed Saeed, said the raid came before dawn and that the aim of such strikes on residential areas was to "terrify the people and try to turn them against the Free Syrian Army rebel group".

"The regime wants people to say that had the Free Syrian Army not entered the city, the regime wouldn't have bombed us," Mr Saeed said.

The fight for Aleppo, a city of 3 million that was once a bastion of support for Mr Al Assad, began in July and is critical for both the regime and the opposition.

If it falls to the opposition, it would be a major strategic victory, giving fighters a stronghold in the north near the Turkish border. A rebel defeat, at the very least, would buy Mr Al Assad more time.

At least 60 people were killed in fighting across the country yesterday, a day after at least 82 died, according to the Observatory.

Activists say nearly 30,000 people have already died in the uprising against Mr Al Assad's rule that began 18 months ago, inspired by the other revolts around the Arab world against authoritarian rulers.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the air strikes on the southern Aleppo neighbourhood of Maadi destroyed the targeted buildings.

An amateur video showed people digging through a pile of rubble in search of survivors.

Fighting and shelling have been a daily occurrence in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and commercial capital, since late July, when rebels took over several neighbourhoods. Repeated attacks by government troops to regain control have so far been unsuccessful.

The battle for Aleppo has marked the first time that the regime has used helicopters regularly to strike from the air, bringing an even heavier toll of civilian casualties.

The Observatory and the LCC reported violence elsewhere, including attacks by government troops on the southern town of Sheikh Miskeen in Daraa province.

The Observatory also said that rebels and troops were fighting near the military airbase of Tabaqah in the northern province of Raqqa.

* With additional reporting by Bloomberg News and Agence France-Presse