Syrian army, rebels wage fierce battles in Aleppo
BEIRUTSyrian government forces and rebels fought battles north of Aleppo and in the city center on Sept. 30, a week into a Russian-backed offensive by the Syrian army to take the entire city, while the U.S. and Russia continued blaming each other over the situation in Syria.
Rebel sources, however, denied any additional advances north of the city by government forces that seized the Handarat camp area north of Aleppo on Sept. 29. A rebel official said government forces had advanced in the Suleiman al-Halabi district of central Aleppo, but were then forced to withdraw.
The Syrian military and its allies launched a Russian-backed offensive one week ago aimed at capturing rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo that are home to more than 250,000 people.
Aleppo has been divided into government and opposition sectors for four years.
A water station was bombed in the Suleiman al-Halabi district, dealing a further blow to a water system already badly damaged during the offensive. The observatory blamed government forces. A Syrian military source, however, said rebels had blown it up.
The observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, reported heavy bombardment by government forces and violent “back and forth” fighting in the Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood.
The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity accused Syria’s government and its ally Moscow of provoking a “bloodbath” in the city, saying the eastern rebel-held portion had become “a giant kill box.”
On the first anniversary of Russia starting to conduct air strikes in Syria, the observatory said more than 3,800 civilians had been killed due to Russian air strikes in Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said Sept. 30 that East Aleppo had descended into the “merciless abyss of humanitarian catastrophe” as the number of besieged across Syria grew from 586,200 to 861,200.
Speaking to the U.N. Security Council in a video link from Geneva, O’Brien painted a grim picture of the violence, which since Sept. 22 – when a short-lived ceasefire hammered out between the U.S. and Russia unraveled – has seen 320 civilians, including 100 children, killed and 765 injured.
Meanwhile, Russia and the U.S. continued their blame game.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was set to hold a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 30 to discuss separating Syria’s moderate opposition from the group formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying.
Lavrov and Kerry had also talked on the phone on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29.
Lavrov said a cease-fire deal on Syria that Russia agreed with the U.S. was still working, the agencies reported.
Kerry on Sept. 29 said that they were “on the verge of suspending the discussion because it is irrational in the context of the kind of bombing taking place to be sitting there trying to take things seriously.”
“It is one of those moments where we are going to have to pursue other alternatives,” he added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sept. 29 that Russia would “continue the operation of its air force in support of the anti-terrorist activity of Syria’s armed forces.”
On Sept. 29, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had called Lavrov to urge Moscow to support a cease-fire lasting longer than 48 hours in Syria and to put pressure on Damascus to respect any truce, while U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned on the same day what they called “barbarous” Russian and Syrian regime air strikes on Aleppo, the White House said.