UN holds emergency talks as Syrian pounding continues

Men inspect the damage after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on Sept 25, 2016.
Men inspect the damage after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on Sept 25, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Security Council discusses sharp escalation in violence as hope for diplomacy fades

AMMAN • Syrian and Russian warplanes continued to pound rebel- held east Aleppo as the intensified offensive appears to have buried any hope for diplomacy.

The United Nations Security Council began an emergency session hours later yesterday to discuss the sharp escalation in violence in the Syrian battleground city since a ceasefire collapsed last week.

But rebel forces said any peace process would be futile unless "scorched-earth bombing" by Russia-backed government forces stopped immediately.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has described the escalating violence in Aleppo as "chilling" and warned that the use of advanced weaponry in the city could amount to a war crime.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia was guilty of prolonging the war in Syria and suggested that it might have committed a war crime if it was behind an attack on an aid convoy near Aleppo.

"A war crime is defined as when you attack a civilian target in the knowledge that it is a civilian target," he said in an interview on BBC TV aired yesterday.

French Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault also warned that Russia and Iran would become accomplices in war crimes if they continued to prolong the war in Syria.

Capturing the rebel-held half of Aleppo, where more than 250,000 civilians are trapped, would be the biggest victory of the civil war for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. They have achieved their strongest position in years, thanks to Russian and Iranian support, and launched a fresh offensive last Thursday.

In the first major advance, they seized control of the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp, north of Aleppo. Rebels fought back and said yesterday they had retaken the camp before the bombing started.

Planes also continued to pound residential areas yesterday, flattening buildings, said rebels and residents. They said air strikes had intensified, with more powerful weapons, since the new offensive began.

"The Assad regime, with direct participation of its ally Russia and Iranian militias, has escalated its criminal and vicious attack on our people in Aleppo, employing a scorched-earth policy to destroy the city and uproot its people," a statement signed by 30 mainstream rebel groups said.

A human rights group said at least 45 people, including 10 children, were killed in Aleppo last Saturday.

Russia and the US agreed on Sept 9 to a deal to put the peace process back on track. It included a nationwide truce and improved humanitarian aid access, but it collapsed when an aid convoy was bombed last week, killing 20 civilians.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2016, with the headline 'UN holds emergency talks as Syrian pounding continues'. Print Edition | Subscribe