Russian-backed offensive 'killed 500' in north Syria

Despite the war, life goes on in Aleppo, Syria, as residents set up stalls on a street beside damaged buildings in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighbourhood. An offensive launched by the Syrian regime has reportedly killed more than 500 people in the pro
Despite the war, life goes on in Aleppo, Syria, as residents set up stalls on a street beside damaged buildings in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighbourhood. An offensive launched by the Syrian regime has reportedly killed more than 500 people in the province this month.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT • A Russian-backed regime onslaught in northern Syria was reported to have killed more than 500 people this month, as Turkey faced new pressure to open its border to people fleeing the violence.

World powers urged Russia to end its air strikes, which a senior US official said were "directly enabling" the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, and the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the conflict.

The meeting behind closed doors came ahead of crucial international talks in Munich yesterday, where Russia said it was ready to discuss a ceasefire in Syria as foreign ministers gathered there in a bid to kick-start the peace talks derailed by the regime onslaught on the besieged city of Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 506 people had died since the regime launched a major offensive against rebels in Aleppo province on Feb 1, including 23 children killed in Russian air strikes.

Tens of thousands of Syrians were still stranded on Wednesday at the Oncupinar border crossing to Turkey, which remained closed.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday said it was building a new camp for the refugees inside Syria, and said it was unfair to ask Turkey to open its borders without pressuring Russia over its bombing. "I find it hypocritical that some circles are telling Turkey to 'open your borders' while at the same time failing to tell Russia 'enough is enough'," Mr Davutoglu told reporters.

Turkey is already hosting 2.7 million Syrian refugees and has refused to let a new wave into the country, leaving many sleeping in tents or the open.

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Wednesday that the healthcare system around the war-torn town of Azaz in Aleppo province was "close to collapse" due to the fighting.

Since last Saturday, an MSF hospital near Azaz has seen an increase of about 50 per cent in its outpatient department. Human rights groups weighed in, urging Turkey to accept those stranded on its border.

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated around 50,000 people have been displaced by the violence, mainly in northern areas of Aleppo province.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Russian-backed offensive 'killed 500' in north Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe