Syria Presses Aleppo Advance, As U.N. Says Hospitals Near Collapse

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A damaged field hospital room is seen after airstrikes in a rebel held area in Aleppo, Syria October 1, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

BEIRUT, Oct 2 – Syrian government and allied forces advanced north of Aleppo, pressing their week-long offensive to take the insurgent-held part of the city after dozens of overnight air strikes hit the besieged eastern sector, state media and a monitor said on Sunday.

The Syrian military, supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air power, began their offensive to take control of the whole of the divided city of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire broke down last month.

An initial air campaign by Syrian government and allied forces more than a week ago was later reinforced by a ground offensive seeking to establish control over the besieged insurgent-held eastern half of the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state television said the Syrian military and its allies advanced south from the Handarat refugee camp north of Aleppo city, which they took earlier this week, into the Shuqaif industrial area.

Zakaria Malahifji, of the Aleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim, told Reuters there were clashes in this area on Sunday.

The Observatory added that there was fierce fighting between rebels and government forces all along the front line which cuts the city in two.

The relentless Russian and Syrian air campaign in east Aleppo has damaged hospitals and water supplies.

East Aleppo came under siege in early July after its main supply route, the Castello Road, fell under government control.

Internationally brokered attempts to establish ceasefires to allow in United Nations humanitarian aid have failed, although other international and local aid groups have brought in limited supplies.

The U.N’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, said he was “deeply alarmed by the ferocious pummelling of eastern Aleppo” and reiterated U.N. calls for a pause in fighting, medical evacuations and access for aid.

“The health system is on the verge of total collapse with patients being turned away and no medicines available to treat even the most common ailments.”

“With clean water and food in very short supply, the number of people requiring urgent medical evacuations is likely to rise dramatically in the coming days,” he said.

On Saturday, the largest trauma and intensive care centre in eastern Aleppo was badly damaged by air strikes and had to close. Two patients were killed.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which partly supported the hospital, said the hospital had been hit seven times since July, with three attacks this week alone.

“The situation in Aleppo is beyond dire … People are stuck under the rubble and we can’t get to them because of the intensity of the shelling. We are pleading for help to stop the bombing,” said Mohamed Abu Rajab, a SAMS nurse at the hospital.

SAMS said only five hospitals remained operational in east Aleppo.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by state media that the participation of Russia’s air force in the conflict now in its sixth year had “tightened the noose on terrorist groups and reduced their ability to spread terror to other countries”.

The Syrian government refers to all groups fighting against it as terrorists.

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