Air raids on rebel-held towns kill 26 in Syria
February 24 2014 11:02 PM

Debris cover the wreckage of a car following a reported air strike by Syrian government forces yesterday in the Sheikh Fares district of the northern city of Aleppo.

Air raids on rebel-held towns across Syria killed 26 people yesterday, activists said, two days after the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an end to indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks.

Syria’s almost three-year-old conflict has raged on despite peace talks that began in Geneva last month and the passage of the UN resolution, a rare moment of unity between the West and Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest backer.

Two women and 10 children were among the dead in government air raids on the town of al-Neshabieh, in the eastern outskirts of Damascus, near a railway marking the frontline between Islamist fighters and Assad’s forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants, and in the province of Homs to the north.

“Two simultaneous raids hit Neshabieh first. People were pulling the bodies of a woman and her two children from one house when the planes came back and hit the crowed, killing another nine,” activist Abu Sakr told Reuters from the area.

He said artillery fire from a battalion based at Damascus airport and the nearby town of Mleiha then hit the town. Fifty people were wounded in the combined bombardment, he said.

Photos taken by activists, purportedly at a field hospital in the area, showed a girl’s body covered in a white shroud, and the decapitated bodies of several men. Reuters could not independently verify the pictures.

“We barely managed to take the bodies before the artillery hit,” said Abu Abdo, a rescue worker at the field hospital.

In Homs province, activists reported air raids on al-Hosn, a Sunni town near the Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers in a valley mostly inhabited by Christians, who have mostly stayed on the sidelines in the conflict between Assad and rebels.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a grassroots opposition group, said six people were killed in the attack on al-Hosn. Footage showed the bodies of two people amid the rubble, one of whom was identified as a woman.

Another video showed a rocket hitting the densely built-up town, with smoke rising as the sound of a warplane is heard.

In the town of Talbiseh, on Syria’s main north-south highway, opposition activists said an air raid killed four children. Footage showed relatives gathered around the bodies, which were wrapped in white and laid on a tiled floor. One man was shown holding the bloodied head of one child and weeping.

On Saturday, Russia and China voted with Western powers for a UN resolution that calls for access for humanitarian aid in Syria and threatens “further steps” in case of non-compliance.

The initial text was weakened during negotiations, with references to the International Criminal Court and targeted sanctions removed. But a call for an end to shelling and air raids in populated areas, a demand for cross-border humanitarian access and the naming of besieged areas were included.

The resolution also condemned “terrorist” attacks by Al Qaeda affiliated groups, which have emerged as some of the most formidable anti-Assad groups, and specifically referred to the Syrian military’s use of barrel bombs, which human rights groups say are indiscriminate weapons that mainly target civilians.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based pro-opposition monitoring group, said four children had been killed yesterday by barrel bombs that hit the contested northern city of Aleppo, scene of heavy fighting in the last two days.

More than 140,000 people have been killed and millions made homeless since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-Assad protests whose violent suppression ignited an armed insurgency. The civil war has drawn in foreign fighters on both sides and threatens to destabilise Syria’s neighbours.

In Damascus, security forces released leftist dissident Akram al-Bunni after abducting him in the city centre on Saturday and questioning him about recent articles he had written on politics in Syria, his brother Anwar said.

Akram al-Bunni spent 20 years as a political prisoner under the rule of Assad and his late father Hafez al-Assad.


Food rations distributed to besieged Damascus areas

Syria’s Red Crescent yesterday said it has distributed 6,650 food rations in three areas of Damascus where rebels and the army reached a truce, but which are still under partial blockade.

The distributions have taken place over the past four days in Beit Sahem, Babbila and Yalda, three rebel bastions where the two sides reached a ceasefire after more than a year and a half of fighting and daily shelling.

The Red Crescent said it also provided medical treatment to 460 residents during the operation, while another 1,700 sick people were able to leave.

The Red Crescent posted photographs on its Facebook page showing scores of men and women gathering at a table, waiting to sign up for the distributions with humanitarian volunteers.

The photographs also show elderly men, teenagers and children looking happy as they carry away boxes marked with the Red Crescent’s logo.

The aid mission was carried out with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Some 5,450 families benefited from the distribution, out of a total 12,000 families that have signed up for assistance.

Truces reached in recent weeks for several rebel-held areas around Damascus - where people were reportedly dying from shortages - have allowed the entry of food, sources on both sides have said.

But according to activists and human rights organisations, the siege on the rebel-held areas has not ended.

“They are like open-air prisons,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists and other witnesses inside the country.

“Lifting a siege would imply freedom of movement, which is not the case,” he said.

In Moadamiyet al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, activists have denounced restrictions imposed by the army ever since a truce was agreed in late December.

“We receive some 1,000 packets of bread a day. But we are unable to bring in flour, or to open bakeries,” said Abu Malek, an activist in the town reached via the Internet.

The UN Security Council on Saturday adopted a resolution calling for humanitarian aid convoys to be allowed access throughout the war-torn country, but without a threat of sanctions should the parties fail to comply.

Damascus said on Sunday it is ready to co-operate with the resolution, so long as it respects “state sovereignty.”




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