Syria: Assad airstrikes kill 400 in Aleppo

Government shelling and airstrikes with makeshift barrel bombs have killed about 400 people in Syria’s largest city so far this month, activists said yesterday, as US and Russian envoys met in Geneva to try to revive deadlocked peace talks.

Men carry the wounded in Aleppo. Picture: Getty Images

The bombings in Aleppo are part of a campaign by president Bashar al-Assad’s forces to gain control of neighbourhoods that have been seized by rebels in the northern city since mid-2012.

They come as a ceasefire in the central city of Homs has been extended for three days from yesterday in order to allow more people to leave besieged rebel-held parts of the city, Homs governor Talal Barrazi said.

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He added that as long as there are people who want to leave rebel-held areas the truce will be ­extended.

An official at Mr Barrazi’s office said there were no evacuations from Homs yesterday, adding that officials were working on processing some 70 men of fighting age. Those already evacuated excluded men between the ages of 15 and 55 in case they were fighters. Nevertheless, dozens crossed into government areas and passed through after ­questioning.

The official said evacuations are expected to resume today. It was the second extension since the truce began last week. Hundreds of civilians have been evacuated from Homs since last Friday when the ceasefire began.

Aid workers took advantage of the temporary truce that was implemented before the second round of peace talks started in Geneva this week. Khaled Erksoussi, the head of operations with the humanitarian group Syrian Arab Red Crescent (Sarc) said that since last Friday, 1,500 people have been evacuated from the besieged areas.

Sarc estimated that up to 3,000 people were trapped in the rebel-held district that had been under government blockade for more than a year, causing hunger and widespread suffering of civilians in Syria’s third largest city.

Violence, meanwhile, continued in Aleppo.

The UK-based Observatory for Human Rights said at least 51 people were killed on Wednesday, mainly by barrel bombs, shrapnel-packed explosive devices dropped on eight rebel-held districts from helicopters. The Observatory said that raised the total killed in the city to some 400 since the beginning of this month.

The Observatory, which has been documenting Syria’s conflict since its start in March 2011 through a network of activists, released its report on the latest Aleppo casualties yesterday. The figures were publicised ahead of a trilateral meeting between senior US and Russian officials, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, and Syrian government and opposition representatives in Geneva.

A second round of talks started in Switzerland on Monday but the discussions quickly became mired in acrimony as government and opposition delegates hurled accusations at each other over the bloodshed, failing to even agree on the talks’ agenda.

From the outset, the talks have been accompanied by a sharp rise in violence on the ground.

The Observatory said that overall at least 4,959 people have died in Syria in the three-week period since 22 January, when the government and opposition delegates sat down for the first round of face-to-face meetings in Geneva.

The period has seen the highest death toll since the uprising against Mr Assad started nearly three years ago.