(AP) Activists: Syrian aircraft hit Aleppo, killing 15
By BARBARA SURK
Syrian military aircraft targeted rebel-held districts in the northern city of Aleppo for the third straight day on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people, activists said.
The government’ assault on the opposition’s northern stronghold comes just hours after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanded a cease-fire in the nearly 3-year-old conflict in which more than 120,000 people have been killed, according to activists.
The airstrikes were the latest in President Bashar Assad’s air campaign aimed at driving the opposition out of Aleppo, Syria’s largest urban center and once the country’s commercial hub. The opposition has controlled parts of the city for more than a year.
Government war planes bombed Aleppo’s rebel-held Shaar district on Tuesday morning, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said at least two children were among those who died in the attack.
On Sunday, 76 people, including 28 children, died in air raids and the city was hit by another round of airstrikes on Monday.
Ban told reporters in New York on Monday that the situation in Syria has “deteriorated beyond all imagination” and insisted that the fighting stop before political dialogue on Syria can start.
Brokered by Russia and the United States, peace talks between the Syrian opposition and Assad’s government are scheduled to begin in January in Geneva.
Meanwhile, plans were underway to organize a one-day meeting of foreign ministers in the Swiss city of Montreux ahead of the Syrian talks, U.N. officials said Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and more than two dozen other foreign ministers would gather for a day-long meeting on Jan. 22 at a Montreux hotel.
The conference will break up for a day and then reconvene on Jan. 24 for the start of actual negotiations between Syria’s warring sides, said Khawla Mattar, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Violence in Syria has surged in the past weeks as the warring sides try to claim or hold on to territory as a possible bargaining chip in the negotiations.
Civilians continue to pay the highest price in the conflict after even the most modest attempts at peace have failed.
On Monday alone, at least 150 people were killed nation-wide, the Observatory said. Most of the casualties were reported in and around Syria’s largest cities, including in the capital, Damascus, Aleppo and the central city of Homs.
The high daily death toll coincided with the United Nations’ $6.5 billion appeal to help displaced Syrians and their host countries as civil war is expected to rage on will into 2014.
Nearly million Syrians have been uprooted from their homes, with some 2.3 million fleeing into neighboring countries and millions of other searching for shelter in safer parts of Syria.
Associated Press writer John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.