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SUNDAY, 20 APR 2014
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Russia blocks U.N. action against regime
A member of the "Liwaa al-Sultan Mrad" brigade, operating under the Free Syrian Army, aims an anti-aircraft weapon in Aleppo's Bustan al-Basha district December 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Molhem Barakat)
A member of the "Liwaa al-Sultan Mrad" brigade, operating under the Free Syrian Army, aims an anti-aircraft weapon in Aleppo's Bustan al-Basha district December 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Molhem Barakat)
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BEIRUT/UNITED NATIONS: Diplomats said Thursday Russia objected to a proposed U.N. Security Council statement expressing outrage at Syrian government airstrikes, especially this week’s indiscriminate use of heavy weapons in Aleppo that have killed more than 100 people.

Diplomats said Russia wanted all references to the regime stripped from the statement, so the United States decided to drop it.

Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions that would have pressured President Bashar Assad to end the violence.

Kurtis Cooper, spokesman for the U.S. Mission, said the U.S. was “very disappointed that a Security Council statement expressing our collective outrage at the brutal and indiscriminatetactics employed by the Syrian regime against civilians has been blocked.”

As diplomats wrangled over a response to airstrikes, Syrian warplanes pounded northern Aleppo for a fifth consecutive day, unleashing their firepower against several rebel-held villages in the province, activists said.The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 106 people were killed around the country, among them 67 fighters from both sides of the conflict.

Countrywide death tolls estimated by the Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists based inside the country, have topped 100 for the last five days, coinciding with the stepped-up government offensive in Aleppo.

Prior to the start of the Security Council meeting, the opposition National Coalition criticized the world body for failing to take action, urging it to “stop wasting its time and the resources of the taxpayers that fund it.”

“Rather than negotiating a weak press statement, [the Security Council] should instead focus on taking concrete measures to address the humanitarian crisis, stop the indiscriminate use of conventional weapons, and prevent extremist groups from co-opting our revolution,” said Naji Ghadbian, the coalition’s special representative to the U.N.

The latest attacks killed at least 11 people in just two of the targeted villages in Aleppo province, among them four women and two children, according to the Observatory.

“After four days of helicopters dropping barrel bombs on Aleppo city, the regime changed the direction of its raids and struck the village of Tal Alam near Safira” southeast of Syria’s second city, the Aleppo Media Center said on Facebook.

Another activist network in the province, Shahba Press, reported air raids on Daret Izza, Mareh, Manbij and Anadan north of Aleppo city.

The Observatory said Sheikh Najjar in Aleppo was hit with makeshift barrel bombs which are packed with TNT and highly destructive.

It also updated its toll from warplane and barrel bomb attacks on Aleppo city to 161 people killed since Sunday.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had reported more than 189 killed by Wednesday evening from such attacks in Aleppo city alone.

Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said it would be difficult, “if not impossible,” for the regime’s military to advance on opposition areas of the country’s former commercial hub.

“But I think it is trying to make the population turn against the rebels, so that the people themselves expel the fighters,” he said.

One Syrian security source has denied that barrel bombs have been used against what the regime calls “terrorists,” but another said the military prefers such weapons over missiles because they are cheaper.

Fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Assad, including paramilitaries and officers from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, also raged on the ground in the city of Aleppo, the Observatory said.

The use of barrel bombs hasn’t been restricted to Aleppo, however. The Observatory reported that a village in Idlib province, Sarja, was targeted by an airstrike but that no casualties were reported. In the nearby town of Dana, an airstrike targeted a hospital, wounding three people, it added.

The Observatory said that helicopters dropped the devices on the village of Jassim in Deraa province in the south, killing at least nine people. Five were members of the same family, it said.

In the city of Deir al-Zor, the Observatory said a man wearing an explosives-laden belt blew himself up near a checkpoint manned by State Security personnel, killing himself and two civilians, but apparently not causing any regime casualties.

Elsewhere in the city, where rebel fighters have been waging an offensive against government troops, at least 13 soldiers were killed, the Observatory said, as the rebels made advances.

In Damascus, mortar bombs landed in the eastern neighborhood of Zablatani and in the Old City of Medhat Pasha, causing an unknown number of casualties.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2013, on page 8.
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