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Russian cruise missiles target killed dozens in syria

Russian warships
in the Mediterranean Sea fired cruise missiles at targets near Aleppo on
Friday, a further sign of Moscow’s broadening military effort in Syria
days after it began to fly bombing missions from an airbase in Iran.
Russian
air power had helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad make steady
advances against rebels seeking to oust him since Moscow’s intervention a
year ago, but a recent insurgent advance in Aleppo has checked that
momentum.

In northeastern Syria,
warplanes from a U.S.-led coalition flew patrols on Thursday to protect
local ground forces they back against Syrian government airstrikes that
are targeting the Kurdish city of Hasaka, the Pentagon said.

Russia’s
three cruise missile launches were its first against targets in Syria
from the Mediterranean, with previous ones made from its Caspian Sea
fleet. On Tuesday Russian bombers began flying missions in Syria from
Hamedan air base in Iran.

Russia’s
Defence Ministry said the strikes targeted the Islamist militant group
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, known as the Nusra Front until it broke formal
ties with al Qaeda last month before playing a big role in the sudden
rebel advances in Aleppo.

The
upsurge in fighting and airstrikes in and around the city, split between
government-held west and rebel-held eastern sectors, has prompted
growing international concern, galvanised by pictures on Thursday of a
dazed, bloodied child.

The plight
of civilians in Aleppo has been aggravated in besieged areas by dire
shortages of basic goods, leading the World Food Programme to warn of a
“nightmarish” situation.

Nearly 40
people in need of medical attention were evacuated from the besieged
towns of Fouah, in Idlib province, and Madaya, near Damascus, a
statement from the office of the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de
Mistura, said on Friday.

On
Thursday Russia, Assad’s most powerful military ally, said it supported a
proposal for a weekly 48-hour pause in fighting in Aleppo to allow aid
to reach the besieged areas and that it was ready to start the first one
next week.

On Friday, the main
umbrella group for the Syrian opposition also cautiously welcomed the
idea provided the U.N. monitored the truce and enforced compliance.
During a previous humanitarian pause this year, both sides complained
the other had broken the truce as fighting escalated again.

On Friday Syrian Kurdish authorities
evacuated thousands of civilians from Kurdish areas of Hasaka following
government air strikes, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia, an
integral part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said.

The
SDF is at the heart of Washington’s military campaign against Islamic
State group and last week seized the town of Manbij from the militant
organization, part of a growing swathe of northern Syria it controls.

Hasaka
is divided into zones of Kurdish and Syrian government control and
fighting between them has killed dozens of civilians in the past 48
hours, YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said.

The
YPG and the government have mostly avoided confrontation during the
multi-sided war that has turned Syria into a patchwork of areas held by
the state and an array of armed factions.

Assad,
backed by Russia and Iran, has focused mostly on fighting Sunni Arab
rebels who have been battling to oust him in western Syria with support
from countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The
YPG, or People’s Protection Units, has meanwhile prioritized carving
out and safeguarding predominantly Kurdish regions of northern Syria.
The group has ties to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels in Turkey.

While
the YPG controls most of the northeast, the Syrian government has
maintained footholds in the cities of Hasaka and Qamishli at the border
with Turkey.

The SDF seizure of Manbij from Islamic State last week raised the prospect of possible advances towards al-Bab, near Aleppo. 

Rebel groups, including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,
stormed a Syrian army complex in southwest Aleppo two weeks ago,
breaking a siege on opposition-held parts of Aleppo and prompting fierce
counter-attacks.

A senior rebel
commander said there was a “positive atmosphere” surrounding talk of a
ceasefire. “But so far there are no details.”

Syrian
warplanes had carried out 46 sorties in the last 24 hours, including
strikes in Aleppo that destroyed a tank, a vehicle loaded with
ammunition and three mortar emplacements, and killed dozens of rebel
fighters, a military source said.

Continuing
clashes between rebels and the Syrian army and allied militias were
fiercest in the southwest of city, the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights, a U.K.-based monitor of the five-year-old civil war, said on
Friday.

It added that air strikes and shelling in and around Aleppo had killed 422 civilians, including 142 children, this month.

“We
need a 48-hour pause, we need it now,” WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher
told a briefing in Geneva on Friday. While the rebel advance this month
opened a narrow corridor into opposition-held areas of Aleppo, access
remains very limited and dangerous, meaning aid supplies are scarce.

“It’s
crucially important that we go in there because people are absolutely
desperate,” Luescher added. “From both sides, these sieges have to stop –
it’s inhumane, awful, disgusting, nightmarish. Not necessarily U.N.
words, but that’s what it is.”

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