Rebel rocket fire on Syria's Aleppo kills 38

Rebel rocket fire on Syria's Aleppo kills 38
Scores of civilians have been killed by rebel bombardment of a regime-held area of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, as Russia defends its military assistance to the Syrian government.
4 min read
16 September, 2015
Over 100 people have been wounded in the attacks [Getty]

At least 38 civilians including 14 children were killed by rebel bombardment on Tuesday of a regime-held area of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, a monitor said.

"Rocket fire on government districts is still going on," said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He gave a toll of at least 150 wounded in the attacks which Syrian state media earlier said had killed at least 19 people and wounded 95.

France to start Syria airstrikes in coming weeks

Meanwhile, France's defense minister says French fighter jets will start bombing Islamic State group targets in Syria in the coming weeks, despite growing doubts over whether the US-led air campaign against extremists in the region is working.

Opposition conservative lawmakers argued in Parliament this week against joining the airstrikes, saying it wouldn't change much on the ground.

But Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on France-Inter radio Wednesday that the French strikes would go forward "as soon as we have well-identified targets."

French planes have been striking Iraq but had stayed away from Syria, amid fears that could strengthen President Bashar al-Assad.

Le Drian said the French position changed because of growing IS presence in Syria in recent months.

France's president has said growing concern about refugees also played a role.

Putin defends Russia's military assistance to Syrian regime

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday strongly defended Moscow's military assistance to the Syrian government, saying it's impossible to defeat the Islamic State group without cooperating with Damascus.

Putin's statement comes amid the signs of an ongoing Russian military buildup in Syria, which the US says signals Moscow's intention to set up an air base there.

Speaking at a meeting of heads of states at a Moscow-dominated security alliance of ex-Soviet nations in Tajikistan, Putin urged other nations to follow Russia's example and offer military support to Assad's government.

"We are supporting the government of Syria in the fight against a terrorist aggression, are offering and will continue to offer it necessary military-technical assistance," Putin said in televised remarks.

"Without an active participation of the Syrian authorities and the military, it would be impossible to expel the terrorists from that country and the region as a whole, and to protect the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Syrian people from destruction."

He said that Assad was ready to conduct political transformations and engage a "healthy part of the opposition," but added that "pooling forces in the fight against terror takes the priority now."

The signs of a Russian military buildup in Syria have worried Washington, which sees Assad as the cause of the Syrian crisis and has warned Moscow against trying to shore up his regime.

In an interview with Russian media, excerpts of which were carried Tuesday, Assad reaffirmed his longtime claim that it's necessary to uproot "terrorism" before discussing political reforms.

"We must continue a dialogue for the sake of reaching consensus," he said, according to Russian news agencies.

"But it's impossible to achieve real success as long as bloodshed continues and people don't feel secure. We won't achieve anything until we defeat terrorism in Syria."

He also urged Europeans to stop supporting "terrorists" to stem a flow of refugees from Syria.

Russia has staunchly backed up Assad throughout Syria's devastating civil war that has killed about 250,000 people and turned millions into refugees, shielding him from United Nations sanctions and continuing to provide him with weapons despite Western criticism.

Putin shrugged off allegations that Moscow's support for Assad has sparked a flow of refugees, saying that without Russia's support for Assad's regime the number of Syrian refugees heading to Europe would have been even bigger.

"People are fleeing Syria primarily to escape fighting that has been fuelled from the outside with supplies of weapons and hardware, they are fleeing to escape terrorist atrocities," he said.

"Without Russia's support for Syria, the situation in the country would have been worse than in Libya, and the flow of refugees would have been even bigger."

The Pentagon says that Russia is in the midst of a steady military buildup at an airport in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, indicating Moscow intends to create a forward air operations base there, although no fighter jets or helicopters have arrived yet.

As part of the effort, Russia has delivered about a half dozen battle tanks to the air base in recent days, a US official said Tuesday.

The Russian leader is set to address the Syrian crisis when he speaks to the UN General Assembly later this month, and observers in Moscow believe he wants a Russian military force on the ground to be ready by that time.