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Friday 24 January 2020

UN chief urges all sides in Syrian war to renew commitment to ceasefire

The scene in Aleppo, Syria, after a series of air strikes and shelling (AP)
The scene in Aleppo, Syria, after a series of air strikes and shelling (AP)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the warring sides in Syria to immediately renew their commitment to a ceasefire after a wave of air strikes and shelling killed more than 60 people in less than 24 hours in the city of Aleppo.

The contested city is now one of the main battlegrounds of the country's devastating civil war, with a ceasefire that has collapsed and peace talks in Geneva stalled.

At least 27 people died as a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and nearby buildings were hit overnight in the rebel-held part of the city.

Air strikes in residential areas then followed, killing at least 20 people, while state media reported that at least 1,000 mortars and rockets were fired at government-held areas of Aleppo, killing at least 14 civilians.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Mr Ban condemns the air strikes against the Al Quds hospital and the recent indiscriminate shelling by government forces and opposition groups "as well as terrorist tactics by extremists", and is demanding accountability for attacks on civilians.

The secretary-general also urged Russia and the United States, as co-chairs of the group of global and regional powers and organisations trying to end the five-year Syrian conflict, "to exert pressure on all concerned to stop the fighting and to ensure credible investigations of incidents such as the attack on Al Quds hospital", Mr Dujarric said.

The Syrian opposition accuses the government in Damascus and its ally Russia of destroying the tenuous ceasefire by launching the bombing campaign.

Senior opposition official Anas al-Abdeh, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, said Russians are violating the ceasefire agreement by "committing crimes and massacres across Syria, especially in Idlib and Aleppo city".

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said "every indication" suggests the attack on the hospital was carried out by Syria's government.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov said a plane belonging to the "so-called anti-Islamic State group coalition" was operating over Aleppo on the night of the hospital attack. He added that Russian aircraft have flown no missions in the Aleppo region for several days.

But Mr Kirby said he had "seen no indication that the coalition was in any way involved".

The 34-bed hospital, the area's main paediatric care centre, was "hit by direct air strike", according to a statement by Doctors Without Borders.

The hospital had an emergency department, an intensive care unit and an operating room, and its eight doctors and 28 nurses offered services such as obstetric care, outpatient and inpatient treatment.

The 250,000 people still in Aleppo will now have to find an alternative facility for care, said Sam Taylor, who is the Syria communications co-ordinator for Doctors Without Borders and is based in Amman, Jordan.

"We're absolutely appalled," he said.

There has also been shelling in Damascus, along with a car bombing - both rarities for the capital.

The ICRC said the fighting, including the destruction of the hospital, is putting millions at grave risk.

With peace talks in Geneva completely deadlocked, Syrians are regarding the escalating bloodshed with dread, fearing that Aleppo is likely to be the focus of the next phase of the war.

Rebel commanders said government forces have been mobilising soldiers, equipment and ammunition in preparation for a military action in Aleppo.

PA Media

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