Officials: All Hospitals in Eastern Aleppo Out of Action After Airstrikes

BEIRUT � All hospitals in Syria’s besieged rebel-held eastern Aleppo are out of service after days of heavy airstrikes, its health directorate and the World Health Organization (WHO) said, though a war monitor said some were still functioning.

White House national security advisor Susan Rice said the United States condemned “in the strongest terms” the latest airstrikes against hospitals and urged Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to take steps to halt the violence.

Intense airstrikes have battered the eastern part of the city since Tuesday, when the Syrian army and its allies resumed operations after a pause lasting weeks. They launched ground attacks against insurgent positions on Friday.

The war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 48 people, including at least five children, had been killed in eastern Aleppo on Saturday by dozens of airstrikes and barrel bombs and dozens of artillery rounds.

Death toll

That brings the number of people killed by the increased bombardment of Aleppo and the surrounding countryside over the past five days to about 180, including 97 in the city’s besieged eastern sector, the observatory added.

Warplanes, artillery and helicopters continued bombarding eastern Aleppo on Saturday, hitting many of its densely populated residential districts, the Observatory said. There were intense clashes in the Bustan al-Basha district, it added.

“This destruction of infrastructure essential to life leaves the besieged, resolute people, including all children and elderly men and women, without any health facilities offering life-saving treatment … leaving them to die,” said Aleppo’s health directorate in a statement sent to Reuters late on Friday by an opposition official.

Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Syria, said on Saturday that a U.N.-led group of aid agencies based over the border in Turkey “confirmed today that all hospitals in eastern Aleppo are out of service”.

The monitoring group said some hospitals were still operating in besieged parts of Aleppo but said many residents were frightened to use them because of the heavy shelling.

Medical sources, residents and rebels in eastern Aleppo say hospitals have been damaged by airstrikes and helicopter barrel bombs in recent days, including direct hits on the buildings.

“The United States again joins our partners … in demanding the immediate cessation of these bombardments and calling on Russia to immediately deescalate violence and facilitate humanitarian aid and access for the Syrian people,” Rice said in a statement.

Airstrikes ‘sickening’

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted that reports of airstrikes hitting civilians and hospitals in east Aleppo were “sickening” and called for a return to diplomacy.

However, with the United States awaiting the inauguration in late January of President-elect Donald Trump, who has been critical of Washington’s Syria policy without laying out detailed plans himself, diplomatic efforts appear stalled.

Staffan De Mistura, the special envoy of the U.N. secretary general, is likely to meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moalem in Damascus on Sunday after recent talks in Turkey and Iran, another diplomat said.

“He will push on Aleppo, perhaps on a ceasefire, but on the political file there won’t be anything until (U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s successor Antonio) Guterres is in office, the diplomat said.

Both Russia and Assad’s government have denied deliberately targeting hospitals and other civilian infrastructure during the war, which began in 2011 and was joined by Russia’s air force in September 2015.

Russia unilaterally called a ceasefire in late October and said on Saturday it was now only striking against groups that are not also observing it. Rebel groups in Aleppo have all said they do not recognise the Russian ceasefire.

The charity Doctors Without Borders said in a message there had been more than 30 hits on hospitals in eastern Aleppo since early July. “Doctors are few and medical supplies are depleted, with no possibility of sending more supplies in,” it said.

Health and rescue workers have previously been able to bring damaged hospitals back into operation but a lack of supplies is making that harder.

The Syrian war pits Assad and his allies Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias against Sunni rebels including groups supported by the United States, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies and also jihadist groups.

Fiercest front

Aleppo, for years split between a rebel-held east and government-held western sector, has become the fiercest front.

An army offensive backed by a major aerial bombardment from late September to late October killed hundreds, according to the United Nations, and tightened the siege, leaving eastern Aleppo with little food, medicine or fuel.

A rebel counter-attack early this month involved shelling that killed dozens of civilians, the U.N. said, but it quickly petered out and the army and its allies, including Hezbollah and Iraqi militias, reversed all insurgent gains in about two weeks.

Syrian state television said on Tuesday the air force had targeted “terrorist strongholds and supply depots” in Aleppo.

Russia has said its air force is only conducting airstrikes in other parts of Syria. The Damascus government describes all the rebels fighting it as terrorists.

Source: Voice of America

Erdogan: Turkey Doesn’t Need EU ‘at all Costs’

ISTANBUL � President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted Sunday as saying that Turkey did not need to join the European Union at all costs and could instead become part of a security bloc dominated by China, Russia and Central Asian nations.

NATO member Turkey’s prospects of joining the EU look more remote than ever after 11 years of negotiations. European leaders have been critical of its record on democratic freedoms, while Ankara has grown increasingly exasperated by what it sees as Western condescension.

Shanghai Five

Turkey must feel at ease. It mustn’t say ‘for me it’s the European Union at all costs.’ That’s my view, Erdogan was quoted by the Hurriyet newspaper as telling reporters on his plane on the way back from a visit to Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

Why shouldn’t Turkey be in the Shanghai Five? I said this to (Russian President) Mr Putin, to (Kazakh President) Nazarbayev, to those who are in the Shanghai Five now, he said.

I hope that if there is a positive development there, I think if Turkey were to join the Shanghai Five, it will enable it to act with much greater ease.

China, Russia and four Central Asian nations � Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan � formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2001 as a regional security bloc to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan.

NATO, Western allies

Turkish membership of the SCO, which had initially not included Uzbekistan and been known as the Shanghai Five, would be likely to alarm Western allies and fellow NATO members.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan speak Turkic languages, and Ankara signed up in 2013 as a dialogue partner saying it shared the same destiny as members of the bloc.

Mongolia, India, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are SCO observers, while Belarus, like Turkey, is a dialogue partner. Dialogue partners are entitled to take part in ministerial-level and some other meetings of the SCO, but do not have voting rights.

Erdogan last week urged Turks to be patient until the end of the year over relations with Europe and said a referendum could be held on EU membership in 2017.

The EU is treading a fine line in relations with Turkey: it needs Ankara’s continued help in curbing a huge flow of migrants, especially from Syria, but is alarmed by Turkey’s crackdown on opponents since a failed coup attempt in July.

More than 110,000 people have been sacked or suspended since the abortive putsch, and some 36,000 arrested. Media outlets have also been shut down.

The government says the crackdown is justified by the gravity of the threat to the state from the events of July 15, in which more than 240 people were killed.

Source: Voice of America

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UN Calls on Turkey to Release Post-Coup Attempt Prisoners

WASHINGTON � A United Nations Special Rapporteur said Friday the Turkish government is imposing draconian measures that limit freedom of expression and called on the country’s leaders to release those held in prison for exercising their rights.

Envoy David Kaye acknowledged that Turkey had a duty to its citizens to keep them safe after the failed July coup attempt, but said the government had gone too far in jailing journalists and others, and the action will generate polarization and long-term instability.

The measures are not only drastic and disproportionate, but they lack any form of transparency,” he said in a statement. “As with media professionals, the government accuses people of serious crimes, but without presenting evidence, without due process and without any form of transparency.

Thousands removed from jobs

Kaye said he hopes to work with the Turkish government to help protect the rights of Turkish citizens and improve legal procedures in the country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has engaged in a crackdown on journalists, academics, military and civilian government employees, accusing them of participating in the coup attempt.

More than 100,000 people have been removed from their jobs since government forces blocked the coup attempt. More than 35,000 others, including military officers and opposition politicians, have been arrested for suspected collusion with the coup plotters.

Turkey has maintained a good and open dialogue with various human rights mechanisms, said Kaye. I thank the authorities for their openness to engage in frank discussions and I look forward to exchanging information on my concerns.”

Purges to continue

Erdogan has said that purges will continue until infiltrators seeking to topple his government have been removed from all state institutions.

The Turkish leader has accused U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen of plotting the coup, and vowed to bring Gulen to justice.

We are in the process of taking necessary steps so this evil network and the band of murderers actually face justice and take the necessary punishments, Erdogan said.

Gulen, a former Erdogan ally in self-imposed exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania since 1999, has repeatedly denied involvement in the coup attempt.

Source: Voice of America