Syrian army advances in Aleppo amid outrage at hospital bombings

A Syrian man with a child fleeing from a reported air strike on a rebel-held area near Damascus.
A Syrian man with a child fleeing from a reported air strike on a rebel-held area near Damascus.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ALEPPO (Syria) • Syrian regime forces advanced yesterday in Aleppo after Russia unleashed dozens of strikes, even as condemnation kept pouring in over the bombing of the main hospital in the city's rebel-held east.

The devastating five-year war in Syria has ravaged second city Aleppo, once the country's economic hub but now torn apart between government troops and rebel forces.

The army of President Bashar al-Assad had announced a major push on Sept 22 to capture Aleppo's opposition-held east and has gained ground in the city with the help of its ally Moscow.

Dozens of Russian air strikes pounded battlefronts in the devastated city overnight, according to AFP's correspondent and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the raids "helped regime forces to advance in the north of the city", where they reached the outskirts of the opposition-held Al-Heluk district.

If loyalist fighters seize Al-Heluk, Bustan al-Basha and Sakhur - all rebel-controlled neighbourhoods in Aleppo north - they will confine opposition factions to a small section of the city's south-east.

But Mr Assad's Russian-backed military campaign in Aleppo has sparked international outrage after a series of air strikes on civilian infrastructure, including, most recently, the largest hospital in the city's east.

Two barrel bombs hit the M10 hospital on Saturday, according to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which supports the facility.

United Nations aid chief Stephen O'Brien fiercely criticised the attack and called yesterday for immediate action to end the "living hell" of civilians in Aleppo's east.

"The healthcare system in eastern Aleppo is all but obliterated. Medical facilities are being hit one by one,"Mr O'Brien wrote.

He said the latest indiscriminate bombings subjected eastern Aleppo's residents to "a level of savagery that no human should have to endure".

"The clock is ticking. Stop the carnage now," Mr O'Brien added.

At the bombed hospital, an AFP journalist saw bloodstained hospital beds and dented equipment lying in disarray beneath blown-out windows.

"The hospital is being destroyed! SOS, everyone!" said SAMS radiologist and hospital administrator Mohammad Abu Rajab in an audio message distributed to journalists.

M10 had already been hit last Wednesday along with the second-largest hospital in the area, M2. That bombardment had badly damaged the two facilities and left only six fully functional hospitals in east Aleppo, according to SAMS.

On Saturday, European Parliament president Martin Schulz called the hospital bombing a "war crime", tweeting that the international community "must unite to prevent (the) city's annihilation".

And French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said "the systematic targeting of structures and health workers is particularly unjustifiable".

The World Health Organisation has called Syria the world's most dangerous place for health workers, and Aleppo in particular has seen much of its medical infrastructure destroyed or heavily damaged.

Since fighting first broke out there in 2012, Aleppo has been divided by a frontline between rebel forces in the east and government troops in the west.

But diplomatic efforts to put an end to Syria's war - which has killed more than 300,000 people - have all but collapsed.

Russia and the United States had brokered a ceasefire deal early last month, hoping it could open a path to peace - but the truce fell apart a week later.

Russia said that its foreign minister, Mr Sergei Lavrov, had spoken to his American counterpart, Mr John Kerry, on Saturday and that they had "examined the situation in Syria, including the possibility of normalising the situation around Aleppo".

They spoke again later that evening, the foreign ministry in Moscow said yesterday, without providing additional details.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Syrian army advances in Aleppo amid outrage at hospital bombings'. Print Edition | Subscribe