United Nations observers in Syria say that armed opposition groups in Aleppo are now in possession of heavy weapons including tanks, after more than a week of fighting between government forces and rebels has pushed nearly 200 000 people to flee the country’s largest city.
The UN Supervision Mission in Syria voiced concern Wednesday at a significant increase in the levels of violence in the south east neighborhoods of Aleppo over the past three days.
“The observers from the UN mission are reporting exchanges of fire shelling and explosions, in addition to the use of helicopters, tanks, heavy machine guns and artillery shelling. Yesterday they also saw firing from a fighter aircraft.” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said Wednesday.
Nesirky says mission observers also confirmed reports that rebels had taken control of tanks and artillery pieces. Media and right group accounts of fighting in Aleppo have varied. The Syrian state media says government military operations have successfully forced insurgents from key areas of the city, while rebels say they have captured two major police stations, killing more than 40 officers Tuesday, according to the London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Some human rights observers have noted the Assad regime response in Aleppo has been relatively restrained, when compared to ongoing military operations in other parts of country, and suggested the government might be confident it still enjoys strong support in the city.
The Local Coordination Committee of Syria opposition group says at least 117 people were killed by the Syrian military Wednesday, including 70 people in the capital Damascus and its suburbs and 12 in Aleppo.
In an interview with the Guardian, Mustafa al-Sheikh, a member of the oppositions military council of the Free Syrian Army, said he didn’t expect rebel forces to take Aleppo but believed continued attacks on the country’s commercial hub would precipitate the regime’s collapse.
“The fighting is like hit-and-run. We are not aiming to get control of any city in Syria, but we want to exhaust the regime and speed up its collapse.” he said.
Meanwhile a video posted online reportedly showing rebel fighters executing four captured Assad government supporters has been condemned as a possible war crime by rights groups like Human Rights Watch and others.
A spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army Tawhid Brigade told the Guardian the shootings were retaliation for the execution of rebel fighters by a pro-Assad militia earlier in the week.
The United Nations and various diplomats have repeatedly condemned the Syrian government for alleged extrajudicial killings, torture and targeting civilian areas with heavy artillery, including tanks and Howitzers, during the 17 month crisis.
“The UN has reminded both parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians.” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky reiterated Wednesday. “There are reports of casualties and mass displacement from the area and many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer neighborhoods.”
The UN says the fighting has also caused severe food and fuel shortages.
“There are reports of casualties and mass displacement from the area and many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer neighborhoods.” the UN spokesperson said.
The World Food Program and the Arab Red Crescent are aiming to deliver food aid to more than 67 000 people in Aleppo over the month of August, despite a 60% shortfall in international funding for WFP humanitarian operations in Syria.