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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Monitors: Death Toll from Air War in Idlib, Syria, Climbs Past 300

By VOA News December 06, 2016

Syrian monitors say the death toll from a Russian and Syrian air offensive that began late last month against rebel positions southwest of Aleppo has climbed past 300. And they say more than 1,000 others - many of them women and children -- have been wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in a statement Tuesday, said new strikes targeted eight refugee settlements in Idlib province, about 100 kilometers southwest of Aleppo. The statement identified a full third of the fatalities as children.

Russia announced last month it was resuming airstrikes in Idlib and Homs provinces in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Separately Tuesday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said Damascus will reject any cease-fire agreement in war-ravaged Aleppo that allows rebels to stay in the sector, to prevent opposition fighters from regrouping and launching new attacks.

A ministry statement rejecting any future rebel presence in the northern city comes three days after Syrian rebel commanders - facing a powerful government offensive in Aleppo's east - warned that they are not leaving the sector.

Diplomats say the intransigence from both sides increases the likelihood of a decisive Aleppo battle in the near future, unless a deal is reached to end months of Russian and Syrian airstrikes and an ongoing government ground offensive that analysts say threatens to overwhelm rebel forces.

Hopes for a quick truce in Aleppo were dealt another blow Monday, when Russia for the sixth time this year vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have provided for a seven-day cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to reach the battered city.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized the resolution, saying "these kinds of pauses have been used by fighters to reinforce their ammo [munitions] and to strengthen their positions." New Zealand envoy Gerard van Bohemen later countered that characterization, calling the Churkin argument "hollow fiction."

Tens of thousands of civilians are thought to be trapped in eastern Aleppo despite a huge surge of refugees fleeing in the past two weeks for the relative safety of government-controlled western districts.

Monitors last week estimated that 18,000 civilians in the east had moved into western neighborhoods and more than 9,000 others into a Kurdish-controlled district.

U.N. special envoy Stefan de Mistura said last week he expected eastern Aleppo to fall to government forces by the end of December, without a negotiated settlement to end the four-year rebel occupation.

Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.



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