Dozens dead as rebels shell regime hospital in Aleppo
Rockets fired by rebel fighters on a government hospital in Aleppo left dozens dead and wounded yesterday, as tit-for-tat violence escalated in the city.
At least 19 people, including three children, at al-Dabit hospital were instantly killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, but with 80 more seriously wounded the death toll was likely to rise.
Opposition forces had earlier detonated a bomb in a tunnel underneath the Syrian regime's air force intelligence building as they stepped up their offensive against regime forces threatening to retake the city.
"[Dozens] martyred and wounded in rockets fired by terrorists at al-Dabbit Hospital," a news flash on state TV said.
The army said rebels had launched a widespread attack on civilian areas and hit the hospital. It accused groups including al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam of being behind the shelling.
The attack came a week after a Syrian government air strike hit the Red Cross-supported al-Quds hospital on the rebel-held eastern side of the city, leaving 55 dead.
More than 275 people have been killed in the most recent surge in violence in Aleppo, two-thirds of which have been from the opposition side.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, the United Nations mediator on Syria said beleaguered peace talks on the conflict could be resumed if a faltering truce was extended to the city of Aleppo, something he and the Russian foreign minister said might happen within hours.
Staffan de Mistura made his upbeat comments yesterday after holding talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, saying he thought there was a chance to relaunch the cessation of hostilities by reinforcing and extending local truces.
The UN negotiator is in Moscow to attempt to salvage deadlocked talks between the United States and Russia, which back different sides of the war, to include Syria's largest city in the ceasefire. Russia had so far refused, claiming much of the city is under control of jihadist rebels linked to al-Qa'ida, which must be removed.
Truces in other parts of the country, including the suburbs of the capital Damascus, and President Bashar al-Assad's north-west heartland of Latakia, have largely been holding.
But the recent escalation of violence in Aleppo has undermined efforts to end the crisis.
"Shells and mortar rounds are raining down on every neighbourhood in Aleppo," said Aleppo-based health official Mohammad Hazouri, speaking from Al-Razi hospital, yesterday.
The Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen TV, which has reporters in the government-held parts of Aleppo, showed damage on both sides of the street in front of the hospital, which also appeared heavily damaged.
Cars in the street were scorched and some were turned over. The shops on the other side of the street showed moderate damage as smoke still climbed out of the wreckage.
The Syrian military said in a statement it was repelling a widescale attack on Aleppo launched by "terrorists" - a government term that includes all armed groups fighting President Assad's forces. The statement said the attack was preceded by heavy shelling of residential areas of the city, which caused civilian casualties.
"Our armed forces are currently working on repelling the attack and appropriately returning fire," it said.
Information minister Omran al-Zoubi warned militants they will face harsh retaliation for the shelling of civilian areas, saying the government's "patience is running out and if they don't stop targeting civilians in the coming hours... they will pay a high price".