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Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

‘It’s doomsday’: Hundreds killed in chemical attack

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo is coming to an end.

Smoke billows from the former rebel-held district of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, on December 12, 2016. Picture: AFP

THE long and bloody war in Syria might be coming to an end, but it won’t be a peaceful end.

Inside a tiny pocket of the once thriving city of Aleppo — Syria’s largest city — a dwindling rebel army is resisting a bombing campaign that continues to intensify.

Onlookers say the rebels, opposed to Syria’s strongarm president Bashar Al-Assad, have run out of room. They now hold less than 3 per cent of the city’s prized territory. It’s a “terrifying” collapse, according to the group’s spokesman.

On the other side, Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air support, are upping the ante, aiming for a victory before the New Year. To secure the win, they’re resorting to tactics condemned by the rest of the world.

On Monday, 93 people were killed in chemical bomb attacks, aid groups say. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations reports 35 died in one village and 45 died in another.

Many of the victims were children.

“We cannot stand one more day of horrors,” Anas Al Kassem said in a statement on Tuesday.

Fighters of the Free Syrian Army fire an anti-aircraft weapon in Aleppo. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

“Every day a new sadistic action is taken against the people of Syria and the world looks on dumbly.”

The United Nations is watching, but powerless to stop the brutal bombing campaign. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was alarmed by reports of atrocities against “a large number” of civilians, including women and children, in recent hours.

“While stressing that the United Nations is not able to independently verify these reports, the secretary-general is conveying his grave concern to the relevant parties,” said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“The United Nations underlines the obligation of all parties on the ground to protect civilians and abide by international humanitarian and human rights law.

“This is particularly the responsibility of the Syrian government and its allies,” notably Russia and Iran, he added.

Those trapped inside Aleppo are finding it difficult to escape. An English teacher, Abdul Kafi Alhamado, told the BBC on Monday that “bombs are everywhere and that it felt like ‘Doomsday’.”

“The situation inside the eastern part of Aleppo is Doomsday. It’s literally the Doomsday,” he said.

“Bombs, bombs are everywhere. People are running. They don’t know where. Just running. Some people are injured in the streets.

Syrian pro-government forces patrol Aleppo’s Sheikh Saeed district, on December 12, 2016. Picture: George Ourfalian/AFPSource:AFP

“No one can go to help them, some people are under the rubble. No one can help them. These houses are their graves. Bombs here are like rain (and people) here don’t know what to do.”

He said people there cannot move “10m or 20m” without bombs going off around them.

Bana Alabed, the little girl tweeting from inside Aleppo, lost her home last week. Her mother tweeted a heartbreaking “final message” less than 24 hours ago saying “people are dying since last night” and “no one is evacuating me and my daughter”.

If she does manage to get out alive, she’ll join tens of thousands of her countrymen and women on the run.

More than 10,000 Syrians are believed to have fled Aleppo in the past 24 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

If Aleppo does fall, it would be the biggest victory for the Assad regime since war started in 2012. Back then, rebels took parts of Aleppo and have held on to them while other cities fell.

In 2014, the government took to the skies, using jets and helicopters to launch strikes, often in heavily-populated civilian areas.

Russia joined the fight in 2014 and September this year saw the heaviest bombardment in the country’s four-year civil war.

Forces loyal to the Assad regime claimed the capture of 96 percent of Aleppo on December 12, with fighting continuing in the Jisr al-Hajj, Bustan al-Qasir, Kallaseh, and Salheen neighborhoods. This video was released during the early hours of December 12, showing the ongoing destruction to the besieged Jisr al-Hajj area of southern Aleppo. Several fighters can be seen carrying automatic weapons in the background, while a large shroud of smoke can be seen at the end of the video. The media activist identifies that he is in Jisr al-Hajj, one of the last remaining bastions of rebel-held Aleppo. Less than 24 hours earlier, Syrian airstrikes and barrel bombings in the Jisr al-Hajj area led to the death of at least 50 civilians, according to activist media reports. Credit: YouTube/Step News Agency via Storyful

“The collapse is terrifying,” said Bassam Haj Mustafa, a rebel spokesman in contact with fighters in the city. Opposition fighters were “doing their best to defend what is left,” he said.

A rebel fighter, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, told AP most of the remaining civilians were massed in two or three neighbourhoods, raising the possibility of mass casualties.

A Syrian military official in Aleppo told AFP on Monday: “We’re living the final moments before victory” and “the operation in eastern neighbourhoods is entering its final phase”.

State television is showing people celebrating the Assad regime’s win, but it’s not yet over. The rebels have held on this long and they won’t go down without a fight.

Osama Abo Zayd, a legal adviser to the Free Syrian Army rebel coalition, said surrendering was not a possibility.

“This pushes us to fight to the last breath despite what we have to face,” he said.

— with AP and AFP