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Syrian troops advance near Aleppo

Syrians await to receive treatment at a make-shift hospital following air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo on September 24, 2016. Heavy Syrian and Russian air strikes on rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo city killed at least 25 civilians on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, overwhelming doctors and rescue workers.  / AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI

 

BEIRUT / AFP

Syrian government forces captured a rebel-held area on the edge of Aleppo on Saturday, tightening their siege on opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city as an ongoing wave of airstrikes destroyed more buildings.
The new government push came as the U.N. said that nearly 2 million people in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and onetime commercial center, are without running water following an escalation in fighting over the past few days.
Government forces captured the rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat as airstrikes pounded rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, killing at least 25 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Local Coordination Committees, another monitoring group, said 49 were killed on Saturday alone.
The Observatory said the death toll in Aleppo is expected to rise since many wounded people are in critical condition and rescue workers are still digging through the rubble.
Residents say the latest bombardment is the worst they’ve seen since rebels captured parts of the city in 2012.
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 rebel-held areas.
The fall of Handarat to Syrian troops allied with pro-government Palestinian fighters pushes insurgents further away from Castello Road, a main artery leading to rebel-held parts of the city, which is now controlled by the government.
“Breaking the siege through the Castello road has become very difficult,” Yassin Abu Raed, an opposition activist based in Aleppo province, told The Associated Press.
An unnamed Syrian military official quoted by state TV confirmed the capture of Handarat, adding that many insurgents were killed. He said experts are removing explosives from the area. The camp, which is almost empty and largely destroyed, has witnessed intense fighting and bombardment in recent years. It has changed hands in the past between government forces and insurgents. The push came as diplomats in New York have failed to salvage a cease-fire that lasted nearly a week, before giving way to what residents and activists say is a newlevel of violence. The bombing, which began in earnest late Wednesday, has been unprecedented, targeting residential areas, infrastructure and civil defense centers.
A Western diplomat speaking to a group of journalists in Beirut said that in NewYork, the impression from meeting with the Russians was that there is no newoffensive, but there are been some mixed messages from the ground. He said there had been reports of advances on the ground and some beefing up of the government and allied forces there. “I will say it seems highly improbable that there will be quick defeat of eastern Aleppo,” the diplomat said, referring to the rebel-held districts. “The only way to take it is by such monstrous atrocities that it would resonate for generations.”
“It would be absolutely the stuff of myth and history,” he said.
Living conditions in the already-battered eastern districts have meanwhile grown even worse.
Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria, said intense attacks damaged the Bab al-Nairab station, which supplies water to some 250,000 people in the rebel-held east.
Singer said that in retaliation, the Suleiman al-Halabi pumping station, also located in the rebel-held east, was switched off — cutting water to 1.5 million people in government-held western parts of the city.
“Depriving children of water puts them at risk of catastrophic outbreaks of water-borne diseases,” Singer warned in her statement, released late Friday.

2mn people
without water in Aleppo: UN

Beirut / AFP

Nearly two million civilians were without water in Syria’s second city of Aleppo on Saturday after regime bombardment damaged one pumping station and rebels shut down another in retaliation, the UN said.
Rebel-held districts in the east of the city came under intense air and artillery fire for a fifth night as the army prepared a ground offensive to recapture the whole of the divided city.
“Intense attacks last night have damaged the Bab Al Nayrab water pumping station, which supplies water to some 250,000 people in the eastern parts of Aleppo,” the UN children’s agency UNICEF said.
“Violence is preventing repair teams from reaching the station.
“In retaliation, the Suleiman al-Halabi pumping station, also located in the east, was switched off, cutting water to 1.5 million people in the western parts of the city,” which are held by the government.
UNICEF said the loss of mains supply posed serious health risks in rebel-held areas as the only alternative source of drinking water was from highly contaminated wells.
It said safer alternatives were available in government-held areas where there were deep groundwater wells.
The agency said it would expand emergency water trucking throughout the city, but warned that was only a temporary solution that was unsustainable in the long term.
“It is critical for children’s survival that all parties to the conflict stop attacks on water infrastructure, provide access to assess and repair damage to Bab al-Nayrab station, and switch the water back on at the Suleiman al-Halabi station.”
Aleppo was Syria’s pre-war commercial and industrial hub but has been devastated by fighting since the rebels seized eastern districts of the city in 2012, making it a frontline battleground.
The denial of access to food, water and medicines has been used repeatedly as a weapon by all sides in Syria’s brutal five-year-old civil war.
Nationwide hundreds of thousands of civilians are living under siege.

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