Syrian Ground Troops Clash With Rebels in Aleppo
Hwaida Saad, Anne Barnard, Sewell Chan, Maher Samaan, NYT, Sep 27 2016
BEIRUT/ LONDON/ PARIS — Government soldiers made advances in the center of the Aleppo on Tuesday, as aerial bombardments by Syria and Russia continued for a fifth day, state-run media said. Syrian state television reported that government troops had captured the rebel-held neighborhood of Farafra. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that government forces had pushed into the center of Aleppo as part of their siege of rebel-held areas in the eastern part of the city. Airstrikes on Tuesday afternoon killed at least 11 people in the Sha’ar and Mashhad neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo, the group reported. The ground offensive, if confirmed, would represent a major development in the battle for Aleppo. Social media accounts associated with opposition fighters said the government was exaggerating the magnitude of its advances. Insurgents from groups that identify themselves as the FSA said they had blocked an attempt by government forces to advance on the eastern sections of Aleppo’s Old City. Rebels have been fortifying the eastern neighborhoods under their control for years, and any ground offensive would likely be long and grinding. Over the last week, Aleppo has been the site of some of the most ferocious fighting in the 5-year-old civil war, following the collapse of a ceasefire negotiated by Pindostan and Russia. Mohamed Abu Jaafar Kahil, the head of a medical charity, said in an electronic message:
Conditions in Aleppo are desperate. Hospitals have no more room to receive even one more case, due to the huge number of casualties, of wounded and of martyrs who died today at the hands of barbaric Russian warplanes backed by Syrian warplanes.
Kahil recounted “non-stop bombing” by rockets and other artillery, including cluster munitions. He estimated that dozens had died and hundreds had been wounded. Dr Mohamed al-Ahmad, a radiologist reached via the messaging app Viber, described a dire situation at the hospital where he worked. “We’re running short of drugs, we’re running short of respirators, we don’t have baby milk, especially for newborns,” he said. Bassem Ayoub, an Aleppo resident, said:
Food and medical supplies are running out. Every day is worse then the last. Every day I leave my house, I keep in mind that I might not be back. All the people are doing the same here. We’re living day by day.
Humanitarian organizations were trying to make repairs to a water pumping station serving the eastern part of the city. Hanaa Singer, the Syria country representative at UNICEF, said that officials were worried that the supply of drinking water might run out, putting 100,000 children at risk of dehydration. There was no progress on diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed. In Germany, Merkel denounced the violence but expressed skepticism that a no-fly zone could be instituted. She said:
What we currently see on the ground is very, very brutal and clearly targeting civilians … (This is) a deep, deep setback. I’m skeptical that in the current situation we can enforce an immediate no-fly zone. It clearly now is up to the Assad regime and also Russia to take a step to improve the chances for a cease-fire and humanitarian aid.