Air strikes pound rebel-held east Aleppo after weeks-long pause

REUTERS

Tue Nov 15, 2016 | 3:29pm EST

By Ellen Francis and Angus McDowall | BEIRUT

A still image taken from a video footage and released by Russia's Defence Ministry on November 15, 2016, shows jets on a deck of Russian Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier near the coast of Syria. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS TV

A still image taken from a video footage and released by Russia’s Defence Ministry on November 15, 2016, shows jets on a deck of Russian Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier near the coast of Syria. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS TV

Intense air strikes resumed in rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo after a weeks-long pause on Tuesday, killing at least three people, residents and a war monitor said.

Syrian state television said the Damascus government’s air force took part in strikes against “terrorist strongholds” in Aleppo’s Old City while Russia said it had struck Islamic State and former Nusra Front sites elsewhere in Syria, without mentioning Aleppo.

The bombardment appeared to mark the end of a pause in strikes on targets inside the city declared by Syria’s government and Russia on Oct 18.

“Our houses are shaking from the pressure. Planes are soaring above us and the bombardment is around us,” said Modar Shekho, a resident of eastern Aleppo. Both rocket strikes by jets and barrel bombs dropped by helicopters were used, residents and a war monitor said.

The renewed violence in Aleppo will be closely followed in Washington where President-elect Donald Trump has signaled he intends to take a different approach to Syria from that of President Barack Obama, who has backed some rebel groups.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose approach in Syria has been praised by the U.S. president-elect, spoke by phone on Monday and agreed to “combine efforts to tackle international terrorism and extremism”, the Kremlin said.

Aleppo has become the fiercest front in Syria’s five-and-a-half-year war, pitting President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias against Sunni rebels including groups backed by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.

Damascus describes all the rebels fighting to oust Assad, which include both jihadist factions banned by Western countries and nationalist groups, as terrorists.

Islamic State does not operate in rebel-held areas, including eastern Aleppo, but the former Nusra Front, now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, does.

Aleppo has for years been divided into government-held western and rebel-held eastern sectors but the Syrian army and its allies managed to isolate and besiege the insurgent districts during the summer. Its allies include Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’ite militias.

OFFENSIVE

A government offensive to retake eastern districts raged from late September to late October, backed by an intense aerial bombardment that the United Nations said killed hundreds and drew condemnation from western countries and rights groups.

However, after Damascus and Moscow announced their pause in strikes last month, a move they said was to let those who wished to quit besieged areas, rebels launched their own assault that killed dozens of civilians in west Aleppo according to the U.N.

Syria’s army and its allies reversed all the gains made by the rebels, who had attacked Aleppo’s government-held western fringes from outside the city, and then intensified their bombardment in insurgent-held areas nearby, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said.

On Monday and early Tuesday, air strikes hit hospitals in three towns and villages in rebel-held areas to the west of Aleppo, putting them all out of action. Damascus and Moscow both deny targeting hospitals.

Other strikes, including some by suspected Russian cruise missiles, hit Saraqeb in Idlib, a province near Aleppo where many of the rebel factions have a large presence.

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