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More than 300 people including 87 children killed in Aleppo

Indiscriminate barrel bombs - effectively oil drums filled with explosives and dropped from aircraft - have been widely used in the latest eight-day assault, according to residents, activists and international rights groups. Phil Sands reports
Civilians cover their noses as they walk near a site hit by what activists say are barrel bombs dropped by government forces at Maaret Al Naaman in Idlib. Abdalghne Karoof / Reuters
Civilians cover their noses as they walk near a site hit by what activists say are barrel bombs dropped by government forces at Maaret Al Naaman in Idlib. Abdalghne Karoof / Reuters

ISTANBUL // More than 300 people, mainly civilians, have been killed in eight days of bombing in Aleppo, a human rights monitor said on Monday, under an intensified campaign of airstrikes by regime forces in northern Syria.

Indiscriminate barrel bombs - effectively oil drums filled with explosives and dropped from aircraft - have been widely used in the assault, according to residents, activists and international rights groups.

“From December 15 to 22, 301 people have been killed, including 87 children, 30 women and 30 rebels,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) in a statement on Monday.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported last Wednesday that at least 189 people had been killed and 900 wounded since December 15.

Since then another 151, almost all of them civilians have been killed, according to the SOHR. Combining those figures with the MSF report, the total number killed is 340.

Last week, Human Rights Watch said 232 civilians were killed in just four days of bombings, while the violations Documentation Centre, a Syrian organisation monitoring the violence, said 206 people were killed during the same period - two of them rebel fighters, the rest civilians.

The number of rebels killed in the strikes appears to be at most a dozen, according to reports from opposition activists. VDC said it had logged 8 rebel fighters killed by air attacks in Aleppo since late November.

“We know how to hide from airstrikes, we have tactics to counter them so they’re not such a threat to our fighters,” said a FSA commander involved in channeling weapons to rebel units.

“They mostly hit civilians who are caught in buildings or out in the open,” he said.

Sana, Syria’s official state news agency made no mention of the air assaults. Since the start of the uprising it has ignored widespread use of air attacks by regime forces in heavily populated areas.

Instead it said army units carried out “precise operations” in Aleppo province on Monday, killing “dozens of terrorists” in Aleppo city.

The intensified attacks come a month before peace talks between the regime and some opposition groups are to take place in Switzerland, and appear to be part of a continued push by the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, to solidify his position and seize more territory before negotiations start.

On Monday, the opposition Syrian national coalition said it would not attend the talks if the government continued the bombing campaign in Aleppo.

Much of Aleppo province, and the city itself, has been rebel held for more than a year, but, after pushing back rebels along the Lebanese border during the summer with the help of Hizbollah militia forces, the regime has stepped up its efforts to regain Syria’s second largest city.

The latest campaign of air raids has drawn international condemnation, amid reports by opposition activists and rights groups that follow-up airstrikes have been directed at ambulance crews trying to help those wounded in prior bombings.

Human Rights Watch said the Syrian air force was “either criminally incompetent, doesn’t care whether it kills scores of civilians, or deliberately targets civilian areas”.

Efforts to issue a UN Security Council statement condemning the air assault came to nothing last week after Russia, which has used its veto to shield Mr Al Assad’s regime, refused any criticism of government forces tactics in Aleppo.

Deadlock in the Security Council has prevented any unified international response to the Syria crisis, and has prevented efforts to refer the conflict to the international court in The Hague for possible war crimes prosecutions. Indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas are a war crime.

Syrian civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict, which emerged from the initially peaceful movement calling for political reforms.

On Sunday, the International Committee for the Red Cross said “at least” 500,000 people had been wounded in the fighting, with tens of thousands detained. Millions of people have lost their homes, fleeing for safety in neighbouring countries or seeking shelter in other parts of Syria.

The UN has launched its largest-ever humanitarian aid appeal, with most of the funding earmarked for the Syria crisis.

psands@thenational.ae

Updated: December 23, 2013 04:00 AM

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