Air strikes ‘have killed more than 500 in last two weeks’

Most fatalities caused by improvised bombs dropped from aircraft, says Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

Syrian air force strikes on insurgent-held districts of the northern city of Aleppo have killed at least 517 people since mid-December, including 151 children and 46 women, the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported yesterday.

Most fatalities were caused by improvised barrel bombs, packed with explosives and shrapnel and dropped from height by planes and helicopters to evade insurgent anti-aircraft missiles.

In recent months, government forces have regained territory southeast of Aleppo and in the suburbs of Damascus. An army ambush in the Qalamoun mountains on Friday killed 60 people said by the observatory to be rebels.

An objective of the offensives near Aleppo and in the Qalamoun mountains is to clear of rebel and radical fundamentalist fighters the route set for the transport of Syria’s chemical weapons precusors from storage areas at a military base at Safira and around Damascus.


The movement of the chemicals from 12 sites on armoured lorries provided by Russia has been delayed beyond the year's end deadline due to inclement weather and fighting along the routes from storage locations to Latakia, the northern port where the chemicals are to be loaded on to Danish and Norwegian container vessels.

Chemical destruction
The ships are to be escorted by Russian and Chinese warships to Italy where the bulk is to be off-loaded to a US warship equipped to neutralise the chemicals, or Britain which has undertaken to destroy part of the deadly consignment.

Logistics head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Franz Krawinkler said, "Because of various external influences, including the weather . . . certain logistical supplies that are needed for this transport could not be delivered in time."

Under a deal brokered by Russia after the US threatened to bomb Syria following an August attack with the nerve agent sarin on villages near Damascus, the govern agreed to the elimination of its stocks of sarin, VX, and mustard gas by June. So far the means of production and filled and unfilled shells have been destroyed by OPCW teams.

On the diplomatic front, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad dispatched a delegation headed by minister of state Joseph Sweid to the Vatican to present a message to Pope Francis who has repeatedly appealed for an end to the conflict.

Since they generally support the secular government, Christians have been targeted by radical jihadis who kidnapped two Orthodox bishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, last April and abducted five Orthodox nuns.

Car bomb assassination
In Beirut, politicians and supporters flocked to the funeral of former finance minister Mohamed Shatah kiled on Friday by a car bomb blamed by the opposition Future Movement on Syria and the Shia Hizbullah movement. He was buried* at the Martyrs' Square mausoleum of former premier Rafik Hariri, assassinated in 2005.

Saudi-sponsored Future bloc head Fouad Siniora has pledged to "free the nation from the . . . illegitimate arms [of Hizbullah]." Hizbullah argues its arms are for the defence of Lebanon.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times