The recent escalation of the Syrian civil war ended up in Aleppo on Friday writing one of the bloodiest pages of the conflict. Within a few hours, 40 civilians were killed by government shelling and rebel gunfire. At least 30 died in a violent air raid, attributed by most to the government’s air force, which hit a field hospital run by Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross. Shortly after, another 10 civilians fell under the fire of rebel groups fighting against Damascus.
All were innocent victims of the failure of the ceasefire begun in late February that had given the Syrians a brief period of relative calm. The resumption of fighting in recent days has been explained in a superficial way, as a result of the strengthening of President Bashar al-Assad who, thanks to the successes achieved by his army, chose force over negotiations with the opposition. But the picture is more complex. Rebels and jihadists have also violated the truce several times to consolidate their positions on the ground and respond to siege by the army, which now controls much of the area around Aleppo.
The images broadcast online Friday by journalists and local activists and aired by networks all over the world, showed scenes of ruins, rescuers wrapped in a dense dust cloud extracting the bodies of victims from the rubble, among the cries of despair of relatives and survivors. Many of the wounded were taken away by makeshift means. The bombs hit specifically the Al Quds hospital, the city’s main pediatric center, and some nearby houses, in the Sukkari district, located in the area of Aleppo controlled by rebel militias and Jihadi. Among the dead there were 14 doctors and patients, including the last pediatrician who remained in that part of town, Dr. Wassim Maaz.
Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross condemned the attack. “Where is the outrage among those with the power and obligation to stop this carnage?” said Muskilda Zancada, dead of the MSF Mission in Syria. “Compounding this tragedy is that the dedication and commitment of the staff of Al Quds, working under unimaginable conditions, has been unwavering throughout this bloody conflict.”
The Al Quds hospital, with 34 beds, provided first aid services, obstetric care and intensive care. It had an operating room, a clinic and an inpatient department where eight full-time doctors and 28 nurses worked.
The National Observatory for Human Rights in Syria, which is close to the anti-Assad opposition, claims that at least 139 civilians have died under the bombs dropped by government helicopters and fighters in the last seven days. Among the dead were 23 children and adolescents and 15 women. Anas al-Abdeh, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said some of these victims were killed by Russian air raids that hit Aleppo in coalition with the government fighters.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied the claim and pointed to the anti-ISIS Coalition led by the United States. “According to the information available to us,” they said, “on the evening of April 27 in Aleppo, for the first time after a long interval, an aircraft of one of the so-called anti-ISIS coalition countries operated in the airspace.” Damascus also rejected the allegations and denied bombing the Al Quds hospital. “These media pretend to cover the crimes committed by terrorists against the people,” wrote the state news agency SANA, while “at least nine civilians were killed and dozens injured by rockets and gunfire from terrorist snipers” against the area of Aleppo controlled by the government.
Damascus has also denounced the entrance of 150 American soldiers into the northern area of the country, the first part of a contingent of 250 soldiers Barack Obama said he would send to Syria. “It is a clear act of aggression,” protested the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The road to total war is open again and there’s little the U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura can do. He will meet next week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow to discuss the negotiations in which no Syrians, neither pro- nor anti-Assad, wants to participate. There is growing pressure on Assad to appoint a new government in May. London, Paris, Washington and other Western capitals are again asking him to step aside.