‘Hundreds killed’ in battle for Aleppo as air strikes pound villages

More than 500 people, including dozens of civilians, have been killed since a major Russian-backed government offensive in Syria’s Aleppo province began this month, a monitor said on Wednesday.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria for its figures, said the toll of 506 included 23 children killed in Russian air strikes on Aleppo city and its surroundings since the operation was launched on 1 February.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency the figures included 89 civilians, 143 pro-government fighters and 274 rebel fighters and “foreign jihadists”, including members of the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.

He said that 14 Iranian troops and at least three fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement had died fighting alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There were reports of more civilian casualties following Russian air strikes on Tuesday evening targeting the villages of Kafr Kalbin and Kafr Khashir in Aleppo’s rebel-held Tel Rifaat district.

Local civil defence sources told Turkey’s Anadolu news agency that 15 civilians had been killed and another 22 people injured in the attacks.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian warplanes also targeted residential parts of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, killing at least 15 civilians and injuring more than a dozen others.

Abu Mahmoud, a member of a local coordination committee in Tel Rifaat, said Russia had carried out more than 20 air strikes in the district and in neighbouring villages on Tuesday.

“Russia is trying to ethnically cleanse the region by striking opposition-held areas of northern Aleppo in an effort to force local residents to flee,” he said.

Abu Mahmoud said that Russian air strikes were also providing cover for Kurdish PYD fighters to advance into formerly Syrian opposition-held villages, with clashes between Syria opposition forces and the PYD reported in Aleppo’s Menagh district and at the Menagh military airbase.

Fighting on Wednesday raged around Tamura, north of Aleppo city, the Observatory said.

Pro-government forces have made a series of gains this month in Aleppo province, severing rebel supply lines and prompting tens of thousands to flee towards the Turkish border.

The UN has warned that 300,000 people in eastern Aleppo city could be cut off from humanitarian aid if government forces encircle the area, a tactic used by the government to devastating effect against other former rebel bastions.

“If the GoS (government of Syria) and allies sever the last remaining flight route out of eastern Aleppo city it would leave up to 300,000 people, still residing in the city, cut off from humanitarian aid unless cross-line access could be negotiated,” the OCHA said on Tuesday

Russia on Tuesday night submitted a new plan for Syria’s future to the US, including President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power, the Russian Foreign Minister said on Tuesday night.

Sergei Lavrov said that, “without disclosing details,” he had “suggested an absolutely concrete scheme in contacts with Washington,” according to the Russian state TASS news agency.

He reportedly said he hoped that “the very simple proposals” will not take too long “for Washington to consider”.

Lavrov said US proposals, which demand an immediate ceasefire, had consistently been blocked because US regional allies refused to accept terms unless Assad steps down first.

Russia has been criticised by European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk for its bombing campaign in Syria, but a Kremlin spokesperson said there was “no credible evidence” that Russia had targeted civilians.

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