Syrian Troops Push Back Militants in Aleppo

Syrian Troops Push Back Militants in AleppoSyrian Troops Push Back Militants in Aleppo

Syrian troops captured a militant-held area on the edge of Aleppo on Saturday, tightening their siege on opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city after what residents described as the heaviest air bombardment of the five and a half-year civil war.

The UN said nearly 2 million people in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and onetime commercial center, are without running water following the escalation in fighting over the past few days, AP reported.

The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting on the escalating attacks on Sunday morning at the request of the United States, Britain and France.

Government forces captured the militant-held Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat as airstrikes pounded militant-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, killing 52 people, including 11 children and six women, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Local Coordination Committees, another monitoring group, said 49 were killed on Saturday alone.

Residents say the latest bombardment is the worst they’ve seen since militants captured parts of the city in 2012. Activists reported dozens of airstrikes on Friday alone.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the “chilling” escalation in Aleppo, which he said marked the “most sustained and intense bombardment since the start of the Syrian conflict”.

The statement issued by his spokesman said the reported use of “indiscriminate” weapons in densely populated areas “may amount to war crimes”.

Syrian state TV said insurgents shelled the government-held neighborhood of Salhiyeh, killing five people. The observatory said insurgents shelled the government stronghold of Masyaf, home to a large number of Alawites, members of President Bashar Assad’s sect, which until now had largely been spared from violence.

An unnamed Syrian military official was quoted by state media on Friday as saying that airstrikes and shelling in Aleppo would continue for an extended period and “include a ground offensive” into militant-held areas.

The fall of Handarat to Syrian troops allied with pro-government Palestinian fighters pushed insurgents further away from the government-controlled Castello Road, a main artery leading to militant-held parts of the city.

An unnamed Syrian military official quoted by state TV said government forces killed many insurgents in Handarat and that experts are removing explosives from the area. The camp, which is almost empty and largely destroyed, has seen intense fighting and bombardment in recent years, and changed hands multiple times.

The escalation comes as diplomats in New York have failed to salvage a US- and Russian-brokered ceasefire that lasted nearly a week. Moscow is a key ally of Assad’s government, while Washington supports the opposition.

Aleppo has been an epicenter of fighting in recent months. It is the last major urban area held by the opposition and the militants’ defeat there would mark a major turning point in the conflict, which has killed more than 300,000 people and driven half of Syria’s population from their homes.