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Syrian military steps up pressure on rebel-held Aleppo areas

Published 24/09/2016

Unicef warned of an increased risk of water-borne diseases
Unicef warned of an increased risk of water-borne diseases

Syrian government forces have captured a rebel-held area on the edge of Aleppo, tightening their siege on opposition-held areas in the northern city as an ongoing wave of air strikes destroyed more buildings.

The new government push came as the UN said that nearly two million people in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, are without running water following an escalation in fighting over the past few days.

Government forces captured the rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat as air strikes pounded rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo, killing at least 25 people, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Local Coordination Committees, another monitoring group, said 49 people were killed on Saturday alone.

The Observatory said the death toll in Aleppo is expected to rise since many wounded people are in a critical condition and rescue workers are still digging through the rubble.

Residents say the latest bombardment is the worst they have seen since rebels captured parts of the city in 2012.

An unnamed Syrian military official was quoted by state media on Friday as saying that air strikes and shelling in Aleppo would continue for an extended period and "include a ground offensive" into rebel-held areas.

The fall of Handarat to Syrian troops allied with pro-government Palestinian fighters pushes insurgents further away from Castello Road, a main artery leading to rebel-held parts of the city, which is now controlled by the government.

"Breaking the siege through the Castello road has become very difficult," Yassin Abu Raed, an opposition activist based in Aleppo province, told reporters.

An unnamed Syrian military official quoted by state TV confirmed the capture of Handarat, adding that many insurgents were killed.

He said experts are removing explosives from the area. The camp, which is almost empty and largely destroyed, has witnessed intense fighting and bombardment in recent years. It has changed hands in the past between government forces and insurgents.

The push came as diplomats in New York have failed to salvage a ceasefire which lasted nearly a week, before giving way to what residents and activists say is a new level of violence.

The bombing, which began in earnest on Wednesday, has been unprecedented, targeting residential areas, infrastructure and civil defence centres.

A Western diplomat speaking to a group of journalists in Beirut said that in New York, the impression from meeting with the Russians was that there is no new offensive, but there have been some mixed messages from the ground.

He said there had been reports of advances on the ground and some beefing up of the government and allied forces there.

"I will say it seems highly improbable that there will be quick defeat of eastern Aleppo," the diplomat said, referring to the rebel-held districts.

"The only way to take it is by such monstrous atrocities that it would resonate for generations. It would be absolutely the stuff of myth and history."

Living conditions in the battered eastern districts have meanwhile grown even worse.

Hanaa Singer, Unicef's representative in Syria, said intense attacks had damaged the Bab al-Nairab station, which supplies water to some 250,000 people in the rebel-held east.

Ms Singer said that in retaliation, the Suleiman al-Halabi pumping station, also located in the rebel-held east, was switched off - cutting water to 1.5 million people in government-held western parts of the city.

She warned: "Depriving children of water puts them at risk of catastrophic outbreaks of water-borne diseases."

AP

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