Amid attacks on Syria's Aleppo, medics plead for access


BEIRUT – Doctors Without Borders pleaded on Monday for access to treat the wounded in the rebel-held part of Syria’s Aleppo as government forces pressed on with an offensive to retake the eastern part of the embattled city.

The international charity, which supports eight hospitals in Aleppo’s besieged eastern quarters, said that only 35 doctors remain in the area, serving an estimated population of 275,000.

The organization, also known by its French acronym MSF, said in a statement that the medical workers in Aleppo are exhausted and that the overstretched facilities face an impending fuel shortage.

Eastern Aleppo’s Health Directorate said the wounded were sleeping outside overcrowded hospitals, waiting for care.

Syrian government forces and their allies have kept eastern Aleppo under siege since July. The U.N. has warned that the Aleppo bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes could leave thousands dead by the year’s end, and aid officials are demanding an immediate pause to the violence.

“Russia and Syria must stop the indiscriminate bombing now and abide by the rules of war to avoid the extreme suffering of the unprotected civilian population,” said Pablo Marco, MSF’s operations manager for the Middle East.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist network which monitors the conflict through local contacts, reported heavy fighting between Syrian rebels and pro-government forces along the east-west Aleppo front lines. Another activist-run group, the Local Coordination Committees, said rebels were fighting to push government forces away from the city’s largest water facility, which serves over a million people.

The U.N. Security Council is deadlocked over how to respond to the Aleppo crisis, with Russia Saturday vetoing a French-drafted resolution demanding an immediate halt to Russian and Syrian airstrikes and the rest of the council voting down a Russian resolution calling on the evacuation of opposition fighters.

It was Russia’s fifth veto of a Western-backed resolution aimed at ending the 5-1/2 year long Syria conflict. Moscow has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Russia and Syria’s government have both endorsed a proposal by U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura to evacuate Al-Qaida-linked militants from east Aleppo while skirting around the reciprocal part of the proposal, to abide by a cease-fire for the besieged area.

An official at Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the government would ensure the safety of any civilians or militants who desire to evacuate, saying gunmen could take their personal weapons and relocate to other rebel areas. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity in line with ministry regulations.

The Czech Republic meanwhile dispatched a plane with medical aid to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The Czech Republic has co-ordinated aid deliveries directly with the Syrian government, while other Western nations have worked through third parties. The Czechs pledged earlier this year to provide aid worth some $8 million to Syria until 2019.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Observatory said Monday that Syrian pro-government forces recaptured two towns north of the central city of Hama in a counteroffensive aimed at reversing a string of losses to ultraconservative rebels in the region.

After weeks of rebel advances outside the central city, which appeared aimed at severing the government’s supply lines between Damascus and Aleppo, the rebel coalition dissolved into infighting over the fate of the extremist Jund al-Aqsa group, paving the way for the government advance.

Jund al-Aqsa is considered by rebels and the opposition as more extreme than even the al-Qaida-linked rebel faction in Syria, the Fatah al-Sham Front, which was previously known as the Nusra Front. On Sunday, Jund al-Aqsa agreed to merge itself into Fatah al-Sham as a way to defuse the conflict.


Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Karen Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic contributed to this report.

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