NEWS BRIEF The bombing in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, worsened over the weekend with hundreds dead and wounded, and in response the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting Sunday that showed how divisive political talks have become: the British ambassador accused Russia and Syria of war crimes; the Russian ambassador said Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad had showed “admirable restraint”; and the U.S. ambassador left in protest.
The situation in Aleppo has quickly deteriorated ever since a short-lived cease-fire ended last week. A U.S. bombing mission struck Syrian government forces (the U.S. claimed the bombs were meant for Islamic State militants). Hours later the UN said an aid convoy carrying food and hygiene kits for tens of thousands of people were struck by bombs. The U.S. blamed Russia, and Russia blamed the U.S.
In the past weekend, the U.S. said Russia and Syria have launched 150 airstrikes in 72 hours on the rebel-held portion of Aleppo. Early reports put the death toll at nearly 200, with about 400 injured, 60 of whom were children.
The eastern part of the divided city is held by rebels opposed to Assad. Fighters and civilians there have built schools, clinics, and shelters underground to protect the facilities from constant shelling. On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, accused Russia and Syria of using bunker-buster bombs to target citizens in these shelters.
As The Guardian reported, Rycroft said:
Incendiary munitions, indiscriminate in their reach, are being dropped on to civilian areas so that, yet again, Aleppo is burning. And to cap it all, water supplies, so vital to millions, are now being targeted, depriving water to those most in need. In short, it is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the bombings demolished three out of four centers used by the White Helmets, a volunteer emergency-services group that pulls injured citizens from rubble after air attacks. “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism,” Power said.
Some 2 million people live in Aleppo, and 250,000 live in the rebel-held portion. Both Syria and Russia have heavily bombed the area, and simultaneously opened up safety corridors to allow people to retreat to the government-held side. As The New York Times reported, Syrian state news broadcast images of people in the government-held portion of the city out enjoying the nightlife. Meanwhile, east Aleppo was largely shrouded in darkness. The government has also sent mass text messages to citizens saying Russia will support them if they retreat.
At the UN meeting, the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, blamed the devolved peace talks on the U.S. and its allies. He also said Russia only targets rebels with its bombing missions, and that any footage of injured civilians had been faked, and was actually of citizens injured by rebels in the government-held western side of the city. When it came time for the Syrian government’s representative to speak, ambassadors for the U.S., France, and the UK, all left in protest.