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Syrian Underground Hospitals Overwhelmed as Bombings Intensify, Ancient Souk Burns as Fighting Rages in Aleppo


Fighting spreads in Aleppo's walled city, Syrian cultural jewel

By Oliver Holmes

Mon Oct 1, 2012 7:56am EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) -

Fires that gutted a vast mediaeval market have broken out in other areas of the Old City of Aleppo, a world heritage site, as rebels and government forces fight for the ancient heart of Syria's biggest city, opposition activists said on Monday.

The rebels last week announced a fresh attempt to seize the city, home of a large merchant class that had mostly remained loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, and appeared to have focused on the warren of alleyways that make up the walled Old City.

With government forces holding the large medieval citadel in the heart of the Old City, according to rebels, the fighting that has already claimed more than 30,000 lives across Syria seems certain to destroy more cultural treasures too.

"Rebels control more that 90 percent of the Old City now," said Ameer, an opposition activist working with rebel brigades.

But he said they were struggling to hold their positions under heavy artillery fire.

He said the rebels still held the Souk al-Madina, a covered market of 13 km (8 miles) of vaulted stone alleyways and carved wooden facades that was once a major tourist attraction.

Fires that damaged or gutted more than 1,500 shops had been put out, Ameer said, but new fires had now broken out in the Old City's Zahrawi, Aqaba and Bab Al Nasr markets.

Plumes of black smoke were rising from many districts, and gunfire could be heard.

The rebels are sensitive to suggestions that they might have brought the conflict to one of Syria's greatest historic and commercial assets. Aleppo was once the last stop before Europe for traders plying the ancient Silk Route from Asia.

"It's urban warfare. I cannot blame any side specifically for the fires," Ameer said over Skype.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said that, as a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, Syria was obliged to safeguard its heritage from the ravages of war.


"The human suffering caused by this situation is already extreme," she said in a statement. "That the fighting is now destroying cultural heritage that bears witness to the country's millenary history - valued and admired the world over - makes it even more tragic."

A visitor to the Old City, who asked not to be named, said the fires, which started on Saturday, were a side effect of the fighting in the covered market, famous for its silks and fabrics.

"An electrical fire started during clashes and spread quickly," he said, adding that several rebel groups, including those from the most prominent Tawheed Brigade, were involved in the rebel advance, which has had only marginal success in the wider city of 2.5 million people.

The pattern of fighting across Syria is one of repeated destruction. When rebel fighters, lightly armed and low on ammunition, make progress, government forces respond with artillery fire until rebels and civilians are flushed out and the army can move in.

But rebels are often able to sneak back, and the cycle restarts, suggesting a bleak prospect for Aleppo's Old City, where fires on Sunday reached the perimeter of the Great Mosque, parts of which date back over a thousand years.

UNESCO believes that five of Syria's six world heritage sites have already been damaged. The other sites include the ancient desert city of Palmyra, the Crac des Chevaliers crusader fortress and parts of old Damascus.

Some 30,000 people have now been killed in an 18-month-old uprising-turned-civil war.

Syrian forces shelled rebel strongholds in the eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus on Monday and launched air strikes on the town of Salqeen in the northern province of Idlib, killing at least 17 people, activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which maintains a network of activists across Syria, said at least five children had been killed in Salqeen, including three from the same family.

Video footage purporting to be of the victims showed the bloodied bodies of two children and an infant laid on a white sheet.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


Ancient souk burns as fighting rages in Aleppo

Fierce fighting continued on Sunday in Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo, a day after clashes between rebels and government troops set an ancient souk marketplace ablaze.

By William EDWARDS (video)

France 24, September 30, 2012


Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled rebel-held areas across Syria on Sunday as fierce clashes were reported in second city Aleppo where a fire tore through a medieval souk.

The fighting in Aleppo city was accompanied by intense overnight shelling that continued into the morning, destroying houses and killing at least three people including two civilians, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Aleppo, Syria's most populous city, has been the main battleground for the past two months of the country's 18-month conflict, and has been gripped by fighting on an unprecedented scale in recent days.

Much of the violence has centred in and around the Old City, and this is believed to have sparked the fire in the centuries-old souk marketplace which destroyed many shops, said an AFP correspondent and the Observatory.

Clashes were reported elsewhere in the northern province of Aleppo, where rebel mortar fire damaged two helicopters at the Al-Nairab military airport, said the group which relies on a network of activists on the ground.

The army also shelled several other districts of Aleppo and battled rebels in Aleppo's northern district of Jandul, the Observatory said.

"There were many rebels and soldiers killed, but both sides are trying to conceal their casualties," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

In Damascus province, rebels killed nine soldiers when they attacked a military checkpoint on the road linking the capital with Qatana to the southwest, the Britain-based group reported.

That came after soldiers backed by aerial firepower stormed the rebel stronghold of Harasta as regime forces carried out arrest raids in the town of Zabadani, said the Observatory.

Elsewhere, troops trying to dislodge rebels fired heavy artillery into areas of the southern province of Daraa, central region of Hama and Idlib in the country's northwest, the watchdog said.

In the northeastern province of Hasakeh, the army fired on houses, injuring several people, as security forces conducted arrest operations in the coastal city of Banias, it added.

The rebel Free Syrian Army attacked a checkpoint in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, killing four soldiers, said the Observatory, whose latest toll for Sunday was 23 dead -- 13 troops, five civilians and five rebels.

Brahimi representative meets Syrian rebel

UN spokesman Khaled al-Masri told AFP, meanwhile, that Mokhtar Lamani, the head of UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's office in Syria, met with a Free Syrian Army commander in a central part of the country.

Lamani held talks with Colonel Kassem Saadeddine in the town of Talbisseh, Homs province, and other members of the FSA, which is made up of army deserters and civilians who have taken up arms against the Assad regime.

The official also met with the governor of Homs province, Ghassan Abdelaal, as well as representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent.

Separately, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari vowed to stop and search any flights from top Damascus ally Iran over its territory suspected of carrying weapons to Syria.

"We have assured US officials that the Iraqi government is determined to land (Iranian) flights and carry out random searches," Zebari said, quoted by Arabic daily Al-Hayat.

Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed Baghdad to deliver on pledges to stop such flights during a meeting with Iraqi Vice President Kudayr al-Khuzaie.

Zebari said the flights first started in March and were stopped after the Iraqis called on the Iranians to do so. By late July, however, the flights resumed.

"They (the Iranians) said they were not carrying weapons or ammunition but pilgrims, visitors and other things," said Zebari, adding that "just to be sure, we will land these planes."

The United States, which has refused to arm the rebellion, unveiled on Friday a total of $45 million (35 million euros) in new funding for humanitarian aid and to help civilians trapped by the conflict.

Violence across Syria killed 118 people on Saturday -- 48 civilians, 41 soldiers and 29 rebels, the Observatory said, adding to its toll of over 30,000 killed since an anti-regime uprising erupted in March 2011.

In its most recent estimate, the United Nations put the overall toll from the conflictd at more than 20,000 dead.


SYRIA Rebels in 'unprecedented' battle for Aleppo

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UN Syrian crisis ‘tragedy of the age’, says Morsi at UN


Syrian underground hospitals overwhelmed as bombings intensify

Bombing is intensifying in cities around Syria, leaving makeshift field hospitals overwhelmed with wounded rebel fighters and civilians. Our Observer, a volunteer nurse in the eastern city of Homs, describes the dire conditions in which patients are being treated. Wednesday marked the deadliest day so far in the 18-month-old uprising against president Bashar Al-Assad’s rule.

 According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based watchdog group, 305 people were killed in one day alone – about two-thirds of them civilians. The group has counted over 30,000 dead since the beginning of the conflict. The wounded are not counted, but as forces loyal to the president use more bombings to quash the rebellion, our Observer reports that injuries have become more severe – and more deadly. WARNING: This video shows blood.

This is the latest video filmed in a Homs field hospital. It was taken on September 17. (This video was cut from its original length; the full video contains graphic images). Contributors

“We only have half a dozen doctors for the entire city”

Shoruk (not her real name), 25, lives in Homs. Before the conflict broke out, she was a university student; until last week, she worked as a nurse rotating through several field hospitals due to a lack of personnel. Female nurses have gradually stopped working at these hospitals as the bombardments have intensified. She continues to stay in daily contact with hospital staff. Until recently, there were six field hospitals operating in the city.

Today, there are only five, because one of them, in the neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh, was hit in a bombardment – three patients and two volunteer nurses, who I knew well, were killed. We’re lacking in specialised doctors. There are only half a dozen trained doctors for all of Homs’ field hospitals. In the two hospitals of Khaldiyeh, where I worked, there is only a surgeon and an orthopaedist.

The rest of the doctors [not counting those who work at the main hospital, controlled by the authorities] are either to afraid of getting arrested or simply can’t get to the field hospitals [which are located in neighbourhoods targeted by the security forces] from where they live. As for the nurses, none of them are professionals. They’re all volunteers who knew nothing about medicine before the start of the conflict. Often, patients die simply because there are not enough of us to treat them all in time – especially on days where there are raids that result in dozens of wounded. When we first opened the field hospitals, we saw victims of sniper fire as well as of some bombings, but these days it’s mostly bombings. They’ve intensified in the last few weeks.

The worst injuries are those to major arteries. Without specialised doctors, they’re very difficult to treat. Patients often have to be amputated, or they die. The intensifying bombings also mean it’s harder for activists to bring medicine and supplies from other cities. The hospitals are lacking in very basic first aid supplies: painkillers, sterilising products, anti-inflammatory drugs, syringes… And it’s getting worse. The type of people treated at the hospitals depend on which neighbourhoods they come to us from. In some, all civilians have fled, and so the wounded are mainly anti-regime fighters. But in other neighbourhoods, women, children and elderly people are also falling victim to the violence.

The city of Deir Ezzor has also come under intense bombing this past week. In this video, a doctor pleads for help: "Look at this, for the love of God; look at all this blood! Look at it!"

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