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Syrian Government Forces Pound Aleppo

  • Edward Yeranian

People run on debris at a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo, December 18, 2013.
Syrian government forces continue to bomb rebel-held districts of the country's largest city, Aleppo, for the fourth consecutive day Wednesday. Witnesses say the use of "barrel bombs" is causing a heavy toll on civilians and that doctors are struggling to treat casualties.

An amateur video shown on Arab satellite channels shows smoke rising after a government air strike over a rebel-held district of Aleppo. Witnesses say a helicopter dropped a “barrel bomb” filled with nails, ball-bearings and other shrapnel over the Masaken Hanano district.

Another amateur video shows rescuers digging through the rubble of a flattened building as dust and smoke fill the air. An opposition activist told al Arabiya TV that government helicopters appear to be striking targets “at random,” hitting civilian areas.

Teresa Sancristoval of Doctors Without Borders tells VOA that doctors in Aleppo are being overwhelmed by the number of casualties and are running out of medications and supplies.

“They have very few doctors working in very, very long shifts, doing their best... you have very few doctors capable of performing surgeries. You have very few beds, because people are afraid if you have a big hospital it will be targeted and bombed. So you have people released after being in surgery after very, very few hours.”

Arab satellite channels showed rebels firing mortars at government-held districts of Aleppo. It was not clear from the videos what was hit by rebel fire. Government forces control approximately 40 percent of Aleppo, including the iconic citadel overlooking the city.

Fighting and heavy shelling also continued in the rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus. Amateur video showed rebels attacking the government-held town of Deir Salmane, claiming to have captured it. That claim, however, could not be confirmed.

Syrian state TV condemned rebel fighters for what it called a “brutal attack” on civilians in the town of Adra, outside the northern city of Hama. The pro-government Ba'ath Party chief for Hama, Mohammed Ahmady, called it an “act of foreign-sponsored terrorism.”

Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, says the government of President Bashar al-Assad feels increasingly confident in the nearly three-year-old conflict.

"The regime seems to be confident that it can crush the revolution. It's carrying out strategic bombing. Strategic bombing aims at one thing, which is to get the civilian community to rise up against the rebels in this case. It wants to get its opponents to feel that they are in a desperate situation, that they have no option but to surrender," said Kahwaji.

The recent upsurge in fighting comes as international diplomats work to prepare a United Nations-sponsored peace conference in Switzerland next month.