BEIRUT: Rebels in Aleppo killed 11 regime troops and wounded at least 10 others when they detonated a building near the city’s historic citadel, in the third such attack this month using a network of tunnels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said the explosion, which targeted a structure being used as a headquarters for army troops, brought down a number of other buildings at the site, located near the Carlton Hotel, where the last such rebel action using tunnels took place.
Fierce fighting was also reported around the Aleppo Central Prison, with two regime officers killed, the Observatory said.
The Observatory said that rebels seized two villages in Aleppo province near the town of Azaz from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda splinter group.
Although ISIS has been busy clashing with an array of rebel groups since early January, it managed to kill six regime troops and paramilitaries late Tuesday near the town of Safira, southeast of Aleppo, the Observatory said.
Regime helicopters dropped “barrel bombs” on neighborhoods of Aleppo, causing an undetermined number of casualties, activists and the Observatory said. The crude devices also fell on the village of Yaadouda in Deraa province, rural areas of Qunaitra province, the Damascus suburb of Daraya, and the Aleppo town of Atareb, where three people were killed, the Observatory said.
The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground, said Wednesday’s nationwide death toll reached at least 118 civilians, with 68 reported deaths in Aleppo province.
Regime warplanes and artillery also pounded the Qalamoun region and areas around the town of Yabroud, where an offensive pitting the army, paramilitary groups and Hezbollah fighters against rebel groups has raged for more than a week.
The Observatory said that the regime side had suffered casualties, but did not give an exact figure, but said the rebels managed to disable a regime vehicle.
In the city of Homs, meanwhile, 11 people were evacuated from the besieged neighborhood of Hamidieh and a shipment of humanitarian aid entered the neighborhood of Al-Waer, the Observatory said.
The evacuation was halted when shots were fired, the governor of Homs told AFP.
Governor Talal al-Barazi did not identify the gunmen, but indicated they were anti-government rebels.
He added that the evacuation had not been coordinated with the U.N. but with “elders and sheikhs.”
Barazi earlier told state TV that most of those evacuated were women, children and the elderly.
The United Nations and Syria’s Red Crescent began operations to evacuate trapped civilians and deliver aid inside besieged parts of Homs on Feb. 7, covering some 1,400 of the estimated 3,000 people trapped for more than 18 months by a government siege that forced residents to survive on little more than olives and wild plants.
U.N. and Red Cross officials have been concerned by the authorities’ detention of around 400 males aged 15-55 for questioning during the evacuation, with only about half released afterward.
Meanwhile, a U.N. Security Council resolution to boost humanitarian aid access could be approved within days, Russia, Britain and France said, but Moscow warned against any attempts to “politicize” the issue.
Russia initially dismissed a Western- and Arab-backed draft resolution as an unfair bid to blame Damascus for the aid crisis in Syria, where the United Nations say some 9.3 million people, or nearly half of the country’s population, need help.
Russia proposed a rival text and Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg have since wrapped some of Moscow’s suggestions into their draft, which has become the basis for negotiations. But Western diplomats say there are still several key sticking points with Moscow to be overcome.
These include a threat to consider sanctions against those who block aid delivery, a demand that restrictions be lifted on cross-border humanitarian access and how the draft resolution describes the conflict and the weapons used, diplomats said.
“If nobody in the Security Council seeks to politicize this issue, to promote one-sided approaches, I am convinced we will be able to reach an agreement in the coming days,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a meeting of Gulf states in Kuwait, Interfax news agency said.
“I think we will go to a vote by the end of the week. There are only three points to solve so it will be quick to decide,” French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters, although he declined to elaborate on those points.
British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters: “I think we will be in a position to vote this week, that’s certainly our intention.”
Western members of the Security Council have been considering a humanitarian resolution for almost a year. After months of talks, the council eventually adopted a nonbinding statement on Oct. 2 urging more access to aid, but that statement only produced a little administrative progress.
U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos last week urged the U.N. Security Council to act to increase humanitarian access in Syria. Amos has repeatedly expressed frustration that violence and red tape have slowed aid deliveries to a trickle.