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Paris slams regime ‘war crimes,’ demands strikes stop
A woman carries a child out of a building after a blast at the building in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.  (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP Video)
A woman carries a child out of a building after a blast at the building in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP Video)
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BEIRUT / PARIS: France Friday said indiscriminate airstrikes by Syrian government forces on the city of Aleppo amounted to war crimes and called for a halt to such attacks, as opposition groups claimed victory at a key site in the war-torn city.

The Doctors Without Borders medical charity says at least 189 people have been killed and nearly 900 wounded in the Aleppo bombings since Sunday, which come ahead of scheduled peace talks in Geneva next month.

“France condemns the bombings in Aleppo by the regime of [President] Bashar Assad, including the use of barrel bombs,” Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Vincent Floreani said.

“These attacks against the civilian population are unacceptable. They constitute war crimes,” he said. “The Syrian regime must put an end to them.”

The alarm was echoed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which called on all parties to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law.

“Over 100 civilians have been killed in markets, a bus station and elsewhere in densely populated areas,” said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria. “Local hospitals already struggling to make do with limited supplies of medicines have been overwhelmed by the influx of casualties since last Sunday.”

In a statement, the group said that “indiscriminate attacks are prohibited, and the ICRC therefore strongly urges all parties to refrain from using explosive weapons with a wide impact area in urban and residential areas.”

Washington tried to push through a U.S.-drafted U.N. Security Council statement condemning the heightened offensive on Aleppo, including the use of Scud missiles and barrel bombs, but it was blocked by Russia.

In the north of the city, rebel fighters claimed they seized the Kindi Hospital, after a 16-day campaign dubbed “One Heart.”

“We have confirmed reports that the Islamists and the [Al-Qaeda-affiliated] Al-Nusra Front have taken near-total control of the Kindi hospital, and that they killed at least 20 regular troops there,” said Rami Abdel-Rahman.

The fighters have also taken some 30 army soldiers prisoner, he added.

The takeover came after “two Nusra Front fighters detonated themselves at checkpoints guarding the facility,” he told AFP.

Pro-opposition websites said regime aircraft retaliated for the suicide bombs by dropping at least 10 barrel bombs in the immediate vicinity of the hospital, but failed to stem the rebel advance.

Once a hospital, the facility was turned into a base for Assad loyalist troops several months ago, and has changed hands several times during the nearly-three-year war.

Speaking to AFP via the Internet, Abu Omar said “it gives fighters in the north of the city easier access to the nearby countryside.”

Pro-opposition websites posted video footage purporting to show rebels inside the largely destroyed facility.

Air raids struck several villages in the countryside Friday.

Dozens were killed in raids over Aleppo in the past week.

The Observatory said at least 80 people lost their lives in violence throughout the country, while Thursday’s death toll stood at 205 people, of whom were 100 fighters in both sides of the conflict.

In the village of Jassem in the southern province of Deraa, the number of people killed from a Thursday aerial attack using TNT-packed crude barrels has risen to 17, including four children, said the Observatory.

Near Damascus, fresh fighting broke out in Maaloula, an ancient Christian town located in the Qalamoun mountains, and the nearby town of Yabroud.

The fighting pitted rebels and Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists against troops backed by paramilitary fighters.

Fighting also raged in the Damascus suburbs of Adra and Beit Sahm, in addition to the eastern neighborhood of Barzeh.

In the eastern town of Deir al-Zor, meanwhile, opposition sources said that the Free Syrian Army was mounting a concerted campaign to over-run regime positions at the city’s military airport. Deir al-Zor has seen a stepped-up series of military engagements between regime troops and Islamist rebels in recent days.

More than 126,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since March 2011, and millions more forced to flee their homes.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 21, 2013, on page 10.
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Kindi Hospital / Aleppo / barrel bombs / Jassem / Syria
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