PHOTO: Civilians in Bani Zeid district of Aleppo, recaptured by pro-Assad forces last week
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UPDATE 1830 GMT: Rebels say they are attacking across a 20-km (12-mile) front to counter the siege of Aleppo by pro-Assad forces They claim they have already taken several positions, particularly to the southwest of the city.
UPDATE 0930 GMT: A doctor in eastern Aleppo city describes the critical medical situation in the besieged areas.
Dr. Fatima al-Mouslem said her clinic now treating about 29 women suffering miscarriages each week, compared to five per month before escalation in bombing and imposition of the siege:
The women are losing babies after being injured in air strikes, but also from the stress of bombs nearby and because of the lack of any nutritional food. We are treating so many casualties now that we can only give them two hours of recovery time before they must leave to make room for another. There’s no time to grieve.
Dr al-Mouslem, one of only two obstetricians left in eastern Aleppo, dismissed the Russian-regime declaration of “humanitarian corridors”: “After everything they have done to us, I don’t believe the regime wants to help us. It’s only for show.”
I will stay. The so-called safe passages all lead to regime territory. As a doctor they consider me to be supporting the opposition. They will put me in jail and then kill me if I leave.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Even as they bombed other parts of Aleppo Province on Saturday, Russia and the Assad regime waged another type of battle inside Aleppo city.
Promoting a supposed plan for “humanitarian corridors”, Russian and Syrian State TV put out footage which claimed to be of “75 families” leaving besieged, opposition-held districts of Aleppo for regime-controlled territory.
Russia’s “Center for Reconciliation” said on Saturday that 169 civilians have used the corridors and 69 rebels surrendered. It said medical assistance was offered to 59 people.
However, residents, local journalists, and pro-opposition activists said that any claim of a humanitarian checkpoint for safe passage was false. Instead, those who tried to move to regime areas risked being shot by snipers, they said.
The Russian-Syrian State TV evidence for the corridors consisted of videos and pictures from the regime side of one dividing line in the city. Footage showed women and children talking to a State reporter, purportedly about their joy at leaving the opposition district. In the background, a regime flag was hung on a building.
Other video showed people lined up and on buses in an unidentified location, supposedly making the crossing.
The campaign — propelled by Russian State outlet RT — was effective enough that many Western outlets carried the claim without any questions. Germany’s Deutsche Welle declared, “Dozens of Syrian civilians have started exiting opposition-held areas of Aleppo to government territory through safe corridors.” Reuters opened its story, “More than 150 civilians, mostly women and children, left besieged eastern parts of Aleppo through a safety zone.”
The BBC was more cautious, attributing the headline claim that “families leave” to Syrian State media.
No journalists other than Syrian State reporters were near the supposed crossing.
The Russian “Center for Reconciliation” maintained its campaign on Saturday with the declaration that another four corridors will be opened, bringing the total to eight.
Opposition: No Safe Corridors, Only Snipers
Pro-opposition activists claimed that the “75 families” already lived in regime areas and were brought to the scene to pose as fleeing residents. They noted that there was no footage of anyone actually crossing from one side to the other.
Meanwhile, a pro-opposition site said two young men were shot by snipers as they tried to cross, a claim supposed by other testimony.
— Dima Moussa (@dimam78) 30 July 2016
“Almost no one has left since the amnesty was announced. Most people don’t want to abandon the uprising,” said Mohammad al-Zein, a lawyer living in Aleppo. “Some 100,000 here are directly connected to the opposition. Wives won’t leave their husbands and mothers their sons to an unknown fate.”
Umm Wassim Eissa, a teacher from the Sayf al-Dawla neighbourhood, said she wanted to cross but did not want to leave behind her 19-year-old son, who had refused military service and was wanted by the regime.
A report from pro-opposition Smart TV, showing no civilians at a supposed crossing and warning of the presence of snipers in the area:
US Sceptical of Russian Initiative
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the corridors on Thursday, saying that three would be opened for civilians and one for surrendering rebels.
US Secretary of State John Kerry cautiously responded on Friday that the plan was risked “completely breaking apart the level of cooperation…if it is a ruse”, but said if could “open up some possibilities” if the US could work out the details with Moscow.
But the White House stepped back from Kerry’s line — “Given [the Russian] record on this, we’re skeptical, to say the least” — and State Department spokesman said the preferred plan was for aid to reach residents in opposition areas: “They should be able to stay in their homes peacefully because they’re not at risk by regime forces.”
UN officials also said that the Russian proposal was a diversion from the need to get aid into opposition districts. However, the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was more receeptive: while there was “urgent need for improvement” in the plan, Moscow appeared to be open to suggestions.
The opposition districts were cut off three weeks ago when pro-Assad forces, enabled by Russian airstrikes, established fire control over the last route north of Aleppo. The Kurdish militia YPG also seized positions on the al-Castello Road.
Russian-Regime Bombing Continues
The “humanitarian” initiative has not paused the intense Russian and regime bombing of areas in and near Aleppo. Attacks are reported this morning on the Shuqaif region, on Anadan, north of the city, and on the neighborhoods of Masakin Hanano, Sheikh Fares, and Haidaria.
The pro-opposition Local Coordination Committees documented 35 deaths in Aleppo Province on Saturday. Some were from continuing Russian-regime bombing of Atareb, west of Aleppo city. Others were from missiles fired by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their offensive to take ISIS-held Manbij, to the east of Aleppo.
Local activists put out a list of 20 people killed in Atareb, 15 of whom were under 12 years old.
Among the targets on Saturday was the last fully-operational hospital in western Aleppo Province. Activists said the main hospital in Anadan was heavily damaged by a missile attack.
1000 Civilians Killed by Bombing in July — Only 2nd Time in 5 1/2-Year Conflict
For only the second time in Syria’s 5 1/2-year conflict, 1000 civilians have been killed by bombing in a single month.
The Violations Documentation Center documented the deaths for July from attacks by Russian and regime warplanes. Almost 600 of the death were in Aleppo Province.
The VDC has established the names, locations, and causes of death for almost 100,000 civilians in the death. Almost 25,000 of them were killed by aerial attacks.