Carnage in Aleppo leaves Syria talks ‘hanging by a thread’
GENEVA - The 2-month-old ceasefire in the Syrian war and peace talks in Geneva are on the brink of collapse as President Bashar Assad’s forces, backed by heavy Russian air strikes, devastated rebel-held sections of Aleppo, a city now in ruins and a symbol of the country’s remorseless destruction.
About 230 people, most of them civilians, have been reported killed in a week of fighting in what was once Syria’s second city and its economic heart. More than 3,200 people have died since the start of the talks amid fading hopes of a peace settlement.
Aleppo has remained under all-out air and artillery bombardment even though the United States and Russia reached a “regime of calm” agreement to freeze clashes near Damascus and in Latakia province that have shattered the February 27th cessation of hostilities deal that was supposed to give impetus for the Geneva talks to end the 5-year-old carnage.
The United Nations acknowledged the “catastrophic deterioration” in Aleppo after air strikes hit mosques and the al-Quds Hospital, which specialised in paediatric care and was staffed by Doctors Without Borders, in the rebel-held section of the city. At least 50 people, including children, were killed in attacks April 28th.
“How can you have substantial talks when you only have news about bombing and shelling?” lamented Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, in Geneva. The talks, he said, were “hanging by a thread”.
Assad’s regime and Russia denied their forces were responsible for the attacks, which reportedly included barrel bombs — metal canisters filled with explosives and shrapnel that the regime has used with devastating effect to terrorise civilian areas under rebel control. The regime has long deemed medical facilities in rebel territory to be legitimate targets.
The rebels, who have no air power, have been using home-made guns, known as “hell cannons”, to fire gas canisters into sections of the ruined city held by the regime.
Increasingly, it seems that Assad is determined to ignore the ceasefire to systematically wipe out the last pockets of rebel forces in Aleppo, allowing the regime to control the region and strengthen its bargaining position in Geneva.
The key issue there is whether Assad should remain as head of state. The rebels, like their US and Arab patrons, want Assad removed but he insists in heading a post-war national unity government.