The United Nations envoy for Syria has said he is “appalled and shocked” by intensive rocket shelling targeting civilians in Aleppo and killing dozens, after three days of a new rebel counter-offensive aiming at breaking siege on the rebel-held parts of the city.
A tight siege has been in place since July, trapping nearly 275,000 civilians in eastern rebel-held Aleppo.
On Friday 29 October the rebel forces started a new military operation, employing heavy shelling and suicide car bombs, was mainly focused on the city’s western edge by rebels based in the countryside outside Aleppo. It included Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a former affiliate of al Qaeda previously known as the Nusra Front, and groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner.
The attacks raised the death toll in the three-day old offensive to at least 41 civilians, including 16 children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The observatory said hundreds of mortars were lobbed.
United Nations Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said he was “appalled and shocked by the high number of rockets indiscriminately launched” on civilian suburbs of government-held Aleppo.
“Those who argue that this is meant to relieve the siege of eastern Aleppo should be reminded that nothing justifies the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons, including heavy ones, on civilian areas and it could amount to war crimes,” de Mistura said.
“The civilians of both sides of Aleppo have suffered enough due to futile but lethal attempts of subduing the city of Aleppo,” De Mistura said. “They now need and deserve a stable ceasefire covering this ancient city of Syria.”
Syrian rebels on Sunday kept up their shelling of regime-controlled areas of the city, killing at least seven people, including three children, state TV reported, and used car bombs and tanks to push into new territory in western areas.
جانب من التمهيد الصاروخي على جبهات حلب الغربية. pic.twitter.com/3uSizZSYPU
— أخبار جيش الفتح (@Lionshunters) October 28, 2016
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) October 28, 2016
On Sunday, a Syrian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the government was reinforcing its positions in and around the city to repel rebel advances.
The observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said about 1,000 government artillery troops arrived in Aleppo from central Syria on Saturday to take part in the counteroffensive. He estimated between 2,000 and 2,500 rebel fighters were taking part.
Russian planes resumed heavy bombing of the rebels’ new locations in west Aleppo – the latter also cited on pro-government sites.
Russia and the Syrian government have halted air strikes on the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo since last week to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians. However, opposition forces said that halt ended on last Saturday after 3 days of its start and the government resumed its air attacks.
Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the first responders team the Syrian Civil Defense that operates in rebel-held Aleppo, said airstrikes Sunday on districts near the front line caused material damage. He also said government artillery shelling killed three people and wounded seven Sunday.
A day earlier, artillery shelling killed a member of the civil defence team, also known as White Helmets, al-Haj said.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.
Rebels opened a corridor to the east for the month of August after pro-government forces first applied a blockade in July, but they were not able to hold it as the government and its Russian ally pounded the gap with artillery and airstrikes. Pro-government forces reapplied the siege in early September.
The area has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.
Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.