Russia presses major offensive against Syrian rebels

Russia presses major offensive against Syrian rebels
Russia has renewed airstrikes on the besieged eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo in the first offensive of its kind in one month.
3 min read
16 November, 2016
The airstrikes are the first of their kind since 18 October [Anadolu]

Russia on Tuesday launched a wide-ranging assault on rebels with renewed strikes on the besieged eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo, using carrier-borne jets and long-range missiles.

The airstrikes, the first of their kind since 18 October, left at least five people dead, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Activist Baraa al-Halaby, who is based in eastern Aleppo, told The Associated Press via text messages that warplanes were firing missiles and helicopters dropping barrel bombs on the eastern part of the city.

"People are scared. The bombardment is intense," al-Halaby wrote.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke of a "major operation" which saw the first missions carried out by warplanes taking off from the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier that arrived off Syria last week.

"We launched a major operation to strike the positions of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in the provinces of Idlib and Homs," Shoigu said at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that the Russian strikes were targeting ammunition depots, training camps and armaments factories.

On 18 October, Moscow said it was halting its airstrikes ahead of a short-lived truce and Syrian raids also subsided, with bombardment mostly confined to areas where clashes were taking place on the edges of the battered city.

Moscow has organised several brief truces to encourage residents and surrendering rebels to leave east Aleppo, but few have gone.

On Sunday, east Aleppo residents received text messages from the army warning rebels to leave within 24 hours.

"After the end of this period, the planned strategic offensive will begin," the message said.

Breaking international law

The United States strongly condemned Russia's renewed bombing campaign, warning that strikes on civilian targets break international law.

State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau said Washington had received reports that the latest Russian and Syrian regime strikes had hit hospitals and clinics.

"We strongly condemn the resumption of air strikes in Syria by the Russians as well as the Syrian regime," she told reporters.

"The most recent reported attacks are on five hospitals and one mobile clinic in Syria. We believe it's a violation of international law."

According to Syria Direct, three hospitals serving an estimated 600,000 residents of Aleppo's rebel-held western countryside stopped operating on Tuesday after being struck by warplanes over the course of 24 hours.

We strongly condemn the resumption of air strikes in Syria by the Russians as well as the Syrian regime.
- Elizabeth Trudeau

"There are no hospitals working in the west Aleppo countryside," said Doctor Hassan Obaid, the regional health director for the Atareb area, roughly 25 kilometres west of Aleppo city.

"They've all been bombed and done away with."

Russia's defence ministry official Igor Konashenko rejected the claims that Russian warplanes had bombed hospitals in Aleppo as "outright lies".

UN member-states also overwhelmingly condemned escalating attacks against civilians in Aleppo and called for a ceasefire to pave the way to a settlement for Syria's five-year war.

The assault ended a period of relative respite for more than 250,000 people living in besieged eastern Aleppo.

Once Syria's economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the war that has killed more than 300,000 people across the country since it started in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Agencies contributed to this report.