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Syria regime bombs rebels as Aleppo food aid runs out

IDLIB, Syria: Rescuers and civilians inspect a destroyed building in the Syrian village of Kfar Jales, on the outskirts of Idlib, following air strikes by Syrian and Russian warplanes yesterday. — AFP
IDLIB, Syria: Rescuers and civilians inspect a destroyed building in the Syrian village of Kfar Jales, on the outskirts of Idlib, following air strikes by Syrian and Russian warplanes yesterday. — AFP

ALEPPO: Syrian government and Russian warplanes pounded rebel-held parts of northern Syria yesterday, including battered second city Aleppo, where food aid rations were all-but-exhausted after months of regime siege.

The renewed bombardment has killed at least 32 people in Aleppo in the last 24 hours, and sparked anger from Washington and the United Nations. It came as President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview that US president-elect Donald Trump could be a “natural ally” if he fights “terrorists”.

Damascus considers all those who oppose Assad’s government to be “terrorists” like the Islamic State group, which Trump has said should be the focus of US involvement in Syria. Damascus and its ally Russia launched a wide-ranging assault on rebels on Tuesday, shattering a month of relative calm in the rebel-held east of devastated Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, says at least 32 people, among them six children, have been killed in government strikes and artillery fire on besieged opposition-held districts since Tuesday. The Independent Doctors Association, a medical group, said barrel bomb attacks had damaged two facilities it supports in eastern Aleppo-the children’s hospital and the only blood bank in the area.

Medical facilities have regularly been hit, and sometimes completely destroyed, in the government’s fight against rebels, though Damascus and Moscow deny they have targeted hospitals. The Observatory also reported strikes in Idlib province, in northwestern Syria, where six people were killed in the village of Kafr Jalis on Tuesday night.

Food aid runs out in Aleppo
“We worked through the night to lift the debris and remove the martyrs and surviving civilians, and now we’re trying to remove the rubble blocking the roads,” said Yahya Arja from the White Helmets civil defense in the province.

The bombardment ended a period of relative respite, particularly in eastern Aleppo, where Moscow halted air strikes on October 18 ahead of a series of brief ceasefires. The ceasefires were intended to encourage residents and surrendering rebels to leave the east, but few did so, expressing fear of moving into government-held territory.

Food aid stockpiled in the east is all-but-exhausted, with international organizations and their local partners saying they were distributing the final rations in recent days. No aid has entered the eastern neighborhoods since government troops surrounded it in mid-July.

Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the war that has killed more than 300,000 people across the country since it started in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Assad ally Russia intervened in September last year in a bid to bolster the government, and on Tuesday said its forces were launching a “major operation” in Idlib and central Homs province, targeting IS and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front.

But the bombardment has been criticized by both the UN and Washington, with the General Assembly’s human rights committee voting overwhelmingly on Tuesday to condemn escalating attacks on civilians.
Washington said it had received reports that the latest bombing raids had damaged civilian infrastructure in rebel areas.  “We strongly condemn the resumption of air strikes in Syria by the Russians as well as the Syrian regime,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters. “The most recent reported attacks are on five hospitals and one mobile clinic in Syria. We believe it’s a violation of international law.”

Assad open to Trump alliance 
Washington was an early backer of the uprising against Assad, and has supported the rebels fighting his government. But that could change under the next administration, with Assad telling Portugal’s RTP state television on Tuesday that he welcomed Trump’s campaign comments suggesting Washington’s involvement in Syria should be focused exclusively on fighting jihadists.

“We cannot tell anything about what he’s going to do, but if… he is going to fight the terrorists, of course we are going to be ally, natural ally in that regard with the Russian, with the Iranian, with many other countries,” Assad said.
Washington already leads an international coalition carrying out strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, but it does not coordinate with Damascus and Assad’s government has condemned it as ineffective.

The coalition is supporting an operation by the Kurdish-Arab alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces to capture the IS bastion of Raqa. “We are advancing even though IS is mining the villages as they flee,” SDF commander Rodi Derik told AFP yesterday in the village of Tuwaylaa, recently captured from IS.-AFP

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