Aleppo Is Falling, But There’s Death and Devastation Everywhere You Look in Syria

December 5, 2016
Dozens were reportedly killed and even more injured in reported Russian airstrikes in Kafranbel, Idlib province, on December 4, 2016 | Youtube screengrab via

Regular Updates: The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

The Situation In Aleppo, And Elsewhere In Syria, Could Not Be More Grim

Some truly disturbing news coming from Aleppo: 

The AP reports

Medical officials secured yet another plot for the dead. But they say they have no way to dig graves with government troops now crashing into opposition-held eastern Aleppo, shelling civilians as they flee and forcing thousands to squeeze into a chaotic, devastated and shrinking pocket of neighborhoods.

“We have no more room,” said Mohammed Abu Jaafar, the head of the local forensic authority. His department is so overwhelmed, the staff registering the dead pleaded with him not to take any more bodies.

“Even if I were to consider mass burials, I don’t have the machines to do the digging,” he said in a telephone interview.

ABC News correspondent Alexander Marquardt is now in Aleppo: 

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report widespread airstrikes, not only in Aleppo but also the suburbs and rural areas of Damascus, and the mountains of Idlib province. And now there is more news about yesterday’s airstrikes in Ma’arrat al-Nouman that we reported on earlier.

The video is graphic:  

James Miller
Russia And China Veto UN Security Resolution On Syria For 6th Time

Above: Protesters in Kafranbel, Syria, march against Assad just days before Russia and China vetoed the second UN Security Council resolution on Syria in January 2012, nearly five years ago.

Russia and China have blocked a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Syria that would have implemented a brief pause in the fighting. This resolution would have implemented a seven-day ceasefire in Aleppo and would have called for the unimpeded delivery of international aid to the city. 

Voice of America reports:

The resolution drafted by Egypt, Spain and New Zealand says the council would consider seven-day extensions to the halt in fighting. The text bans attacks “with any weapons,” including airstrikes and mortars that have been used to devastate large areas in both rebel-held and government-controlled parts of Aleppo.

Like previous cease-fire agreements in Syria, this one would not apply to attacks against militant groups such as Islamic State. The prior halts in fighting have had some success in getting badly needed aid to civilians, but there has been little impact in stemming the larger war that has killed more than 400,000 people.

The new resolution also demands the implementation of a political process outlined in a December 2015 resolution. That process featured a new constitution and new elections for Syria, but did not determine what role President Bashar al-Assad would play. 

And while the Internet is filling with angry responses to the actions of the Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the UN, those who have watched this story all along wonder whether those blaming Russia and China are really pointing their fingers in the right direction: 

Indeed, the Russian onslaught in Syria continues unabated. The death toll continues to skyrocket. As we have explained on multiple occasions, the death and destruction in Syria serves the Russian government’s needs. 

If the status quo serves Russia, then why should anyone expect that after five previous UNSC vetoes Russia would do anything different, especially when it is so close to victory in Aleppo? 

In the past, Russia and its client state in Syria have used the diplomatic process as a shield to increase violence against the Syrian people and the opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.  That pattern seems to be repeating:

Clearly, if trying to use the UNSC to stop the fighting in Syria is the international community’s only plan, then the status quo will continue indefinitely.

James Miller

Two Russian Military Medics Killed, Another Wounded After Field Hospital Shelled In Aleppo

The Russian Ministry of Defense has confirmed to Interfax that two of their servicewomen — both  medics — have died as a result of injuries sustained during an attack on a military field hospital in Aleppo today.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov, official spokesman for the Ministry, told reporters that another Russian, a pediatrician, was in critical condition.

In addition, Russia’s state-owned RT media outlet has announced that a reporter from their Arabic service, Somar Abudiab, was wounded in a follow-up attack on the site:

After the shelling of the hospital, an RT crew with a producer from RT Arabic, Somar Abudiab, arrived at the scene. They were filming when the shelling resumed and Abudiab was injured by a shell fragment.

Red crosses can be seen on tents and vehicles in the RT footage, indicating that the site was indeed used as a medical facility. 

While Komsomolskaya Pravda‘s notorious war propagandist Aleksandr Kots claimed that missiles had fallen on civilians, the MOD has not reported any civilian casualties, nor can any non-military personnel be seen in either RT’s footage or video from Russia’s ANNA News propaganda outlet (graphic).

RT reporter Lizzie Phelan tweeted that the hospital was due to open tomorrow.

The MOD has accused Syrian rebel forces of targeting the facility, which was located in a square in the al-Furqan neighborhood in the west of the city.

The MOD claimed that fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate), operating in eastern Aleppo, could not have conducted such a precise strike.

This is an interesting shift in focus, as the Russian government, like the Assad regime in Syria, regularly accuses all rebel forces operating in Aleppo of being affiliated with al-Qaeda. 

Konashenkov blamed the deaths on Western states that have supported the Syrian opposition:

“The blood of our soldiers lies on the hands of the instigators of this killing. Those, who created, nurtured and armed these beasts in human form, naming them the opposition to absolve their own conscience and justify it to their voters. Yes yes, on you sirs, the patrons of the terrorists from the USA, Great Britain, France and the other countries sympathetic to them and their accomplishments.”

RT’s Phelan claimed that nine mortar shells had landed in the area. Meanwhile, this RT photo shows the MRV-U 42M fuse cap from a Russian or Soviet-manufactured BM-21 Grad rocket, purportedly recovered at the scene of the attack:

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2016-12-05 16:24:06

Syrian rebel forces have indeed been using Grads on the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo today:
There is nothing so far, however, to confirm that Grads were used in the attack. The pattern of damage visible in the RT drone footage is unusually compact for a strike conducted with highly inaccurate, salvo-fired Grad rockets.

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2016-12-05 17:03:21

— Pierre Vaux
After Aleppo, Russia’s Next Target May Be Idlib Where It’s Already Killing Scores Of Civilians

The fighting in Aleppo, Syria, is making headlines across the planet. This weekend, the Russian defense ministry claimed that its coalition had retaken 30 opposition-held districts in eastern Aleppo — more than 52% of rebel-held territory. That number may now be obsolete. Though heavy fighting continues in that city, it is clear that the momentum is on the side of the Moscow-backed coalition that is supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

While the Aleppo story is far from over, one question is what will be the next target for the pro-Assad coalition — made up of Hezbollah extremists, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Shia militias from Iraq, and Russian soldiers, aircraft, and private military contractors, working side by side with the remnants of the Syrian military. 

One clue — Russia appears to have ramped up bombing efforts against two of the opposition’s most important strongholds: Kafranbel, arguably the ideological and symbolic capital of the anti-Assad movement, and Ma’arrat al-Nouman, which defends one of the most important crossroads in all of northern Syria. 

In Kafranbel, activist Hossam Hosber told AFP that “six strikes hit houses and a crowded local market.” In Ma’arrat al Nouman, a market was also struck. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC), a network of activists who report the news from the ground and attempt to verify the death toll, reports that a Russian plane was responsible for striking the markets and residential areas in both cities as well as surrounding areas in Idlib province. The LCC was able to confirm 128 deaths on Sunday, December 4, 62 in Idlib province and 34 in Aleppo. The UK-based activist group  Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that at least 26 were killed in Kafranbel alone.  


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Syrian civilians killed by Russian air attacks on Idlib: report

Air attacks in the Syrian province of Idlib killed at least 46 civilians on Sunday, including theree children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said. At least 26 civilians were killed in suspected Russian strikes on the town of Kafr Nabel, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said.

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Dec 05, 2016 20:13 (GMT)

Ma’arrat al-Nouman has reportedly been targeted by Russian airstrikes again today, and various opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria are also under heavy attack. 

The extremist group Islamic State (ISIS) is not located in this area. Its territory is east of Aleppo. If Russian and Syrian airstrikes are an indication of what will happen next, however, the pro-Assad coalition is likely to push west from Aleppo and north from Homs after the fight for Aleppo is over. Once again, the target of Russian aggression is not ISIS, but anti-Assad rebels. 

Syrian activist media group says more than 2000 killed in November.

The LCC has also released a report documenting 2319 deaths nationwide in the month of November. “including 326 children, 303 women, and 48 under torture.” 1178 of those were killed in Aleppo alone, mostly as a result of Russian and Syrian airstrikes. As intense as the fighting is in Aleppo, it accounts for just over half of the casualties reported by the LCC. Away from the headlines, Syria and Russia continue to spearhead the destruction of the country elsewhere.

For more on the LCC, read our report here: 

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Who Are The Local Coordination Committees Of Syria?

The LCC's casualty figures are typically a mix of civilians and rebel fighters. They typically do not include deaths from inside territory controlled by the Syrian regime, as the LCC is hunted by the Syrian government and so cannot operate within those areas.

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Dec 05, 2016 20:20 (GMT)

James Miller