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Syria govt air raids 'wreaking disaster' on Aleppo
Published Saturday 21/12/2013 (updated) 22/12/2013 17:46
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A man helps an injured man following an airstrike in Aleppo's Maadi
neighborhood on Dec. 17, 2013 (AFP/Mohammed al-Khatieb)
DAMASCUS (AFP) -- Syrian forces are "wreaking disaster" on Aleppo, killing hundreds in air strikes on the city, Human Rights Watch said Saturday, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi held talks with Iran's foreign minister.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meanwhile, said the body of Abbas Khan, a British doctor who died in a Syrian jail, was to be transported to Beirut.

"Government forces have really been wreaking disaster on Aleppo in the last month, killing men, women, and children alike," said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"The Syrian air force is either criminally incompetent, doesn't care whether it kills scores of civilians -– or deliberately targets civilian areas," Solvang added.

The HRW statement comes six days after the launch of a massive aerial campaign against opposition-held areas of Aleppo, once Syria's commercial capital, involving dozens of warplane strikes and helicopter attacks using TNT-packed barrels.

The New York-based organization cited the Syrian Network for Human Rights as saying 232 civilians were killed from December 15 to 18 in and around the northern city.

HRW concluded that the attacks, which targeted both Aleppo city and its province, showed "government forces had used means and methods of warfare that... could not distinguish between civilians and combatants, making attacks indiscriminate and therefore unlawful."

It also lashed out against rebels for firing rockets and mortar rounds into civilian areas in government-controlled parts of Aleppo.

The city has been split into rebel and regime-controlled areas since mid-summer 2012 when rebels launched a massive offensive to try to take Syria's second city.

On Saturday, a day after rebels made a fresh advance in the city, overrunning the Kindi hospital, regime troops pounded the area, which loyalists had for months been using as a base, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Aleppo Media Center, a network of activists on the ground, also said the army had launched a new attack against the opposition-held Qadi Askar neighbourhood.

The loyalists, according to the AMC, used highly destructive TNT-packed barrel bombs, whose use has been condemned widely by rights groups.

The violence comes despite preparatory discussions for peace talks due for January 22 in Switzerland, which should bring together opposition and regime representatives.

There has been no agreement yet on whether key Damascus backer Iran will participate in the talks.

Iran not yet "off the list"

On Saturday, peace envoy Brahimi talked by phone with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the latest on the Geneva 2 conference," the ministry said.

Zarif, it said, "insisted on a political solution" that includes talks between the parties to the conflict which has claimed some 126,000 lives since it erupted nearly three years ago.

On Friday, Brahimi had said negotiators failed to reach agreement on whether Iran should be invited to the peace talks, but that Tehran was not yet "off the list" of participants.

"It's no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran, but our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran's participation would be the right thing," said Brahimi.

While Iran backs President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the United States has insisted he should be excluded from a future transition.

Meanwhile, the ICRC announced the body of Abbas Khan, a British doctor who died in a regime jail, will arrive in Beirut on Saturday.

In the Lebanese capital, his remains will be handed over to the British embassy.

London and a Syrian rights group has held Damascus responsible for Dr Khan's death.

But Syrian authorities said on Wednesday the doctor was found "hanging" in his cell, where he was being held for "unauthorized activities," and that he had committed suicide.

Khan, a volunteer with London-based charity Human Aid UK, had traveled to Aleppo in northern Syria last year to help civilians when he was arrested by the regime.

The developments come a day after the opposition condemned the arrest by the security forces in the northern city of Qamishli of a prominent Assyrian Christian dissident, Gabriel Mushi Gowriyeh.

"The Syrian National Coalition condemns the detention in the city of Qamishli on December 19 of Gabriel Mushi Gowriyeh, head of the Assyrian Democratic Organization's political bureau," the group said.
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