Russia to 'pause' raids after boy's image goes viral

Omran sitting in an ambulance with his sister on Wednesday after they were rescued following an air strike in a rebel-held neighbourhood in Aleppo. The boy's condition and dazed expression led the US State Department to call him "the real face" of th
Omran sitting in an ambulance with his sister on Wednesday after they were rescued following an air strike in a rebel-held neighbourhood in Aleppo. The boy's condition and dazed expression led the US State Department to call him "the real face" of the Syrian conflict.PHOTO: REUTERS

Syrian govt's ally to allow aid deliveries to Aleppo after photo of boy pulled from rubble draws global sympathy

ALEPPO (Syria) • A shocked Syrian boy pictured sitting in an ambulance, covered in blood and dust after an air strike, has become a symbol of civilian suffering in Aleppo and the nation as a whole, and is drawing worldwide attention.

As international concern mounted, President Bashar al-Assad's key ally Russia said it was ready to halt raids on the northern city for 48-hour "humanitarian pauses" from next week.

The announcement on Thursday followed pleas from the United Nations and the European Union for a halt in the fighting in divided Aleppo to allow aid deliveries.

But it was the haunting image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh that reverberated around the globe, much like the photo of little Aylan Kurdi whose body washed ashore on a Turkish beach last year.

Omran was pulled from the rubble after an air raid on Wednesday in the rebel-held district of Qaterji in the south-east of Aleppo, which has been devastated by the five-year war.

The US State Department called Omran "the real face" of the Syrian conflict, which has left more than 290,000 people dead and displaced millions since it began in 2011.

 

"That little boy has never had a day in his life where there hasn't been war, death, destruction, poverty in his own country," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a press statement.

Departing from his usual diplomatic talking points, Mr Kirby asked reporters how many among them had seen photos of the child.

"You don't have to be a dad, but I am. You can't but help look at that and see that that's the real face of what's going on in Syria," Mr Kirby said.

The Aleppo doctor who treated Omran's head wound said that the boy had been reunited with his parents and that his family were all believed to have survived the strike.

Photographer Mahmoud Rslan captured the image of Omran, who was plopped onto a seat in an ambulance after being carried out of his family's destroyed apartment by a rescuer.

"I've taken a lot of pictures of children killed or wounded in the strikes that rain down daily," Mr Rslan told Agence France-Presse by telephone. "Usually they are either unconscious or crying. But Omran was there, speechless, staring blankly, as if he did not quite understand what had happened to him."

Opposition-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo are frequently targeted by air strikes, including barrel bombs dropped by regime helicopters.

Syrian and Russian aircraft have been carrying out intense air strikes this week on opposition strongholds across northern Syria to prevent rebels sending reinforcements to the city, a monitoring group said.

Regime aircraft continued to pound rebel positions across Idlib province on Thursday as well as parts of Aleppo province, it said.

Aleppo has been the scene of intense fighting since the end of last month, when the "Army of Conquest" alliance of rebels and Islamic militants launched a major offensive to break a regime siege of opposition-controlled districts.

But neither side has achieved a decisive victory despite hundreds dead on both sides.

In Geneva, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura cut short the weekly meeting of the humanitarian taskforce headed by the United States and Russia in protest at the failure of warring parties to allow aid to reach civilians. "Not one single convoy in one month has reached any of the humanitarian besieged areas," he told reporters.

The Russian defence ministry later announced that Moscow was "ready to implement the first 48-hour 'humanitarian pause' to deliver humanitarian aid to Aleppo" next week.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Russia to 'pause' raids after boy's image goes viral'. Print Edition | Subscribe