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Aleppo Under The Most Intense Air Bombardment Since Syrian War Began, U.N. Says

In a photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, men inspect damaged buildings in Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday.
In a photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, men inspect damaged buildings in Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday.

Less than a week after a U.S.-brokered Syrian ceasefire collapsed, the city of Aleppo is being pummeled with the most intense air bombardment since the beginning of the conflict, according to the U.N.

"The secretary-general is appalled by the chilling military escalation in the city of Aleppo," read a statement released by a spokesperson for Ban Ki-Moon on Saturday.

Since late last week, "there have been repeated reports of airstrikes involving the use of incendiary weapons and advanced munitions such as bunker buster bombs," the statement continues.

"The secretary-general underlines that the apparent systematic use of these types of indiscriminate weapons in densely populated areas may amount to war crimes."

NPR's Alice Fordham reports there is also ground fighting around the city, and forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad, whose regime is backed by Russia, are gaining ground north of Aleppo, trying to cut off supply lines to rebel-held parts of the city.

Alice reports:

"People in the rebel-held part of Aleppo say that they fear a complete siege, a tactic used across Syria by several sides in the multi-factional war, although the vast majority of those suffering are besieged by the regime in opposition-held areas.

"Witnesses [tell] NPR much bigger missiles are hitting them than before, and that they believe white phosphorus is being used as a weapon, which is illegal.


"People in the opposition-held part of the city of Aleppo speak of an unprecedented bombardment, collapsed buildings [and] women and children among dozens killed. Water has been cut off to the entirety of the city, including the government-held area."

On Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the violence and potential siege in a speech to European leaders.

"I want to make this clear, what is happening in Aleppo today is unacceptable. It is beyond the pale.

"If people are serious about wanting a peaceful outcome to this war, then they should cease and desist bombing innocent women and children, cease cutting off water and laying siege in medieval terms to an entire community, and work with the international community in order to be able to bring peace to people who are starving – literally starving, but also starving for the possibilities of a future without chlorine dropping on them out of the sky, barrel bombs, and indiscriminate bombing."

Referring to the recent bombing of a U.N. aid convoy on its way to a rebel-controlled area west of Aleppo city, Kerry called on Russia to, "set an example, not a precedent, an unacceptable precedent, I might add, for the entire world." While it's not clear who carried out the attack that hit the convoy, NPR's Alice Fordham reported that "American officials say the perpetrators could only be the Syrian air force or its Russian allies."

The U.K.-based watchdog group the Syrian Observatory posted a statement Saturday saying at least 45 civilians had been killed in airstrikes in the eastern part of Aleppo, and said the death toll would likely rise because more people were trapped in the rubble or critically injured.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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