Inside Syria

Aleppo under attack

As Syria’s government forces intensify aerial bombardment, we discuss the impact on the upcoming Geneva peace talks.

Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, has been subjected to an intensive, indiscriminate and sustained aerial bombardment.

Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs – oil drums packed with explosives and other material like scrap metal or nails – from helicopters. The improvised weapons have little accuracy, but they do massive damage. 

My understanding of the situation is that should the Syrian government be really interested in killing civilians, the death toll within civilians would have been much higher. There is no carpet bombing, there is no consistent, indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

by Ammar Waqqaf, a Syrian political analyst

According to the aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF), hospitals have been overwhelmed and at least 189 people in Aleppo have been killed in a wave of attacks since December 15.

Activists have described the bombs as ‘barrels of blood’ because of their devastating effect.

“For the past three days, the helicopters have been targeting different areas, among them a school and the Haydarya roundabout, where people wait for public transport vehicles … In both cases, there were dozens of dead and injured people,” said Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, the MSF coordinator in Syria.

Amateur videos showed scenes of utter devastation. Local residents pick their way through the debris and rubble of wrecked buildings, as they come to the aid of an injured man.

“I am one of the residents here … these are civilian residential areas and there are no members of the Free Syrian Army or armed people here … military helicopters dropped two explosive barrels … one barrel dropped on this area while other barrel in another area … Thank God there is only material damage. We tell Bashar al-Assad that even if he shells us with nuclear or chemical weapons we’ll stay here,” said a resident from Karm al-Zaitoun district of Aleppo.

Another woman from Hraitan district of Aleppo’s countryside whose house was destroyed said: “The plane shelled us while we were praying in the yard. When we went out we did not know who had died or who was wounded …”

The northern city of Aleppo was once Syria’s commercial hub, but has been a major front in the civil war since rebels went on the offensive there in mid-2012.

If Assad continues to be crazy and the non-stop killing machine of the Assad regime continues to be like this, it is very difficult to have real negotiations … in Geneva.

by Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian National Council member

According to Human Rights Watch, opposition forces have also killed civilians in government held districts of the city.

More people are fleeing to the countryside to escape the bombardment, but there are now reports that villages around Aleppo are also being attacked.

The US has drafted a UN Security Council statement condemning the military offensive on Aleppo.

The draft statement would have expressed “deep concern at the escalating level of violence in the Syrian conflict and condemned all violence by all parties,” but it was blocked by Russia, which has been one of President Bashar al-Assad’s staunchest allies.

The air campaign is an example of the way in which the violence is escalating as world powers prepare for the “Geneva II” peace conference planned for late January in Switzerland. Both sides are maneuvering to improve their position on the ground.

More than 120,000 people have been killed and nearly nine million uprooted from their homes in Syria’s civil war, which began nearly three years ago.

So what does the latest bombing wave on Aleppo mean for the Syrian people? And how will it affect the upcoming Geneva II peace talks on Syria? 

To discuss this, Inside Syria presenter Divya Gopalan is joined by: Ole Solvang, a senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch; Ammar Waqqaf, a Syrian political analyst; and Radwan Ziadeh, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council.

“Government forces have really been wreaking disaster on Aleppo in the last month, killing men, women, and children alike …. The Syrian Air Force is either criminally incompetent, does not care whether it kills scores of civilians – or deliberately targets civilian areas.

It [the international response] is not enough … the problem has really been that every one has been so focused on … the chemical weapons issue and then it was the humanitarian assistance issue, which is still a very concerning topic, and then the political talks that were announced and in all of that this sort of increase … the gradual increase we saw in the bombardment sort of fell off the agenda a bit.”

Ole Solvang, a senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch