Fighting in Aleppo intensifies as more Syrians flee

Feb 6, 2016

“It is estimated that up to 20,000 people have gathered at the Bab al-Salama border crossing and another 5,000 to 10,000 people have been displaced to Azaz city” nearby, said Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The border between Turkey and Syria is closed but Turkish officials have said this week that they are prepared to feed and shelter refugees from the war-torn country.

In northeastern Syria, various groups backed by the U.S. and linked under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces were also making progress but Aleppo in the northwest was in danger of falling to Syrian government forces, Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Friday.

Meanwhile, Syria’s state news agency SANA said pro-government troops had taken another community as part of the offensive aimed at encircling Aleppo.

On Thursday Russia accused Turkey, key backer of Syria’s opposition, of preparing a ground invasion, an accusation Mr Erdogan called “laughable”. The Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units, or YPG, have been fighting non-Islamic State rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra along the border for weeks.

The United Nations said that 20,000 people were stuck at the border fence between Syria and Turkey, and aid groups said as many as 50,000 were expected.

Turkey has taken in more than 2,50,000 Syrian refugees throughout the conflict and allowed hundreds of thousands more to cross its borders. Opposition activists reported more than 500 targets hit by Syrian and Russian planes in one of the most intensive air campaigns since Moscow’s intervention began late a year ago. President Bashar Assad’s regime and anti-government activists traded blame for the attack against the mosque, which occurred in the heart Aleppo’s walled Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The regime’s Aleppo encirclement motions toward what once seemed to be an unthinkable endgame in Syria: the permanent partition of the country between regime and jihadist-held spheres, with Assad as the country’s most seemingly viable source of long-term authority and no remaining force committed to the idea of Syria as a unified or coherent national entity.

United Nations mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura (R) arrives for a news conference on the Syrian peace talks outside President Wilson hotel in Geneva, Switzerland Feb. 3, 2016. The British broadcaster said Ankara enacted a similar protocol during the siege of Kobane past year, when around 200,000 refugees crossed the border.

Syrians who have managed to cross into Turkey, often by bribing Turkish border guards by paying $1,200 a person or paying people smugglers, say their journey was an ever-more-frightening trek with airstrikes following them from town to town.

The Observatory says the capture was backed by shelling and airstrikes, including by Russian warplanes.

Syrians are feeling an intensifying Russian assault around the city of Aleppo, and aid workers said on Friday it could soon fall under a full government siege. Russian violations of Turkish air space were “causing increased tensions and … create risks”, he added. “Thousands of people, mainly families with women and children, are waiting to enter Turkey”, said observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

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