Airstrikes kill at least 12 in Syria’s rebel-held Aleppo


BEIRUT (AP) — A series of airstrikes on rebel-held areas of Syria’s divided Aleppo city killed at least 12 Thursday, anti-government activists and monitoring groups said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 12 people, including seven women and children, were killed when airstrikes hit the Salheen and Tariq al-Bab districts, in the rebel-held parts of Aleppo city. The Local Coordination Committees, another anti-government monitoring group, said five children were among those killed in Tariq al-Bab neighborhood. Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the team of Syrian Civil Defense first responders, said the strikes hit a residential house and a mosque opposite it. He said at least four people remain under the rubble.

Fighting in the deeply contested city has intensified over the last week after government and allied troops closed off the Castello road, the lifeline to the rebel-held areas, effectively sealing off those districts where tens of thousands of people live. The U.N. estimates that 300,000 people depend on Castello road.

Al-Haj said dozens of people attempted to use the Castello road Thursday, challenging the government blockade, and ended up wounded when they came under government fire. The exact number of those wounded is not yet known, he said.

The violence comes ahead of a meeting Thursday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow aimed at discussing prospects of reducing the violence and moving toward a political transition in Syria.

The U.N. envoy to Syrian Staffan de Mistura said he wants to avoid repeated failed talks. “To get something effective we need the help of the two co-chairs, because that will give a huge chance for these talks to not just be another Geneva II which I am determined to avoid,” he said in reference to Washington and Moscow.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Humanitarian aid adviser Jan Egeland said the eastern part of Aleppo city, one of the rebel-held areas, is already under full military encirclement with no assistance going in and no freedom of movement for civilians, make it entitled to be labelled a besieged area. However, three months need to pass for an area to be considered besieged, he said, appealing for sparing it such a label.

“We really need to avoid eastern Aleppo becoming the 19th and biggest besieged area. There is ample time to avoid that happening,” Egeland said during a press conference in Geneva Thursday.

In late June, The United Nations estimated that 5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid and are living in hard-to-reach areas, nearly a million more than the previous figure because of increased insecurity.

On Thursday, an international aid convoy reached the besieged town of al-Waer in the central Homs province, bringing aid to 75,000 people, including flour, medical supplies, water and sanitation material. The aid is a joint convoy organized by the U.N, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Syrian Red Crescent. The last convoy reached the district on June 16.

Also on Thursday, the Islamic State group said it has shot down a Syrian government plane in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour and that its pilot has been killed.

A video released on Thursday by the group’s media arm, Aamaq, purports to show the plane’s wreckage in flames and the body of the pilot, strung up on what appears to be a pole.

The Observatory also reported that IS militants shot down a plane near the Deir el-Zour military airport, which is controlled by government forces, adding that the militant group had later “crucified” the body of the pilot.

It wasn’t clear when the plane was downed.

IS controls Deir el-Zour province and parts of the provincial capital with the same name, along with the airport.

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Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report

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