Syria war: Aleppo family of 6 killed in ‘chemical attack’

Posted at 9:45 AM, Nov 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-20 09:47:54-05

A family of six was killed in a suspected chlorine gas attack in war-ravaged eastern Aleppo on Sunday, as the death toll in a six-day blitz neared 300, a monitor and activists said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said preliminary reports indicated a married couple and their four children were killed in one of many airstrikes to hit the al-Sakhour neighborhood in Aleppo’s besieged east. The group said chlorine gas was used in the bombardment.

The Aleppo Media Center (AMC) activist group also reported that the family was killed and posted a photo of the aftermath on Twitter. The AMC said a barrel bomb containing chlorine gas was dropped on the neighborhood from helicopters.

CNN has viewed a video purporting to show the aftermath of the attack but cannot independently verify the use of the toxic gas.

A UN investigation in late August found that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, both by the national air force and ISIS militants. It found two instances where regime forces had used chlorine as a chemical weapon, and one where ISIS had used mustard gas.

Nearly 300 killed in 5 days

The Syrian regime resumed heavy bombardment over eastern Aleppo on Tuesday after a three-week lull, killing at least 289 people by Saturday, according to the Syrian Civil Defense volunteer rescue group, known also as the White Helmets.

Strikes continued Sunday, but at a lower intensity, activists said.

The death toll is likely to climb, as the White Helmets said another 950 people were injured. And dozens remain missing in what the rescue group described as “nonstop attacks.”

Saturday saw intense bombardment, with 68 people killed, according to the Aleppo Media Center activist group.

‘A Holocaust’

Syria’s grinding five-year conflict has devastated Aleppo, divided between government-controlled areas in the west and rebel positions in the east.

The Syrian regime, backed by Russian air power, has decimated much of eastern Aleppo with aerial bombardments in recent months, and has threatened a ground offensive to seize control of the area.

Aid agencies have struggled to get aid into the zone. Government forces have besieged the area since July, essentially cutting the area off from the rest of the world — a stranglehold tactic that the Syrian regime is infamous for.

As a result, food, medicine and fuel supplies are desperately low. Hospitals and blood banks are near nonexistent. And the roads are full of rubble from buildings that once were.

“Inside the city of Aleppo is a Holocaust,” an Aleppo resident, who describes himself as an independent media activist, told CNN.

He said neighbors and families were sharing what little food they had left.

The UN said Sunday that it had designed a detailed humanitarian plan to provide assistance to civilians and medical evacuations in Syria, and that it had shared the plan with all parties in the conflict — as well as its member states.

“It is imperative all parties agree to the plan and allow us to secure immediate, safe and unimpeded access to provide relief to those most in need in east Aleppo, but equally in all other parts of Syria where there are people in need,” read a joint statement from Syria Humanitarian Coordinator Ali Al-Za’tari and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis and Kevin Kennedy.

‘Stop bombing hospitals’

On Saturday, the Syrian American Medical Society told CNN that not a single hospital in eastern Aleppo was operating at full capacity.

“For the first time, eastern Aleppo is out of hospitals operating at full capacity,” said Dr. Mazen Kewara, director of the medical society’s Turkey office.

Several major trauma hospitals were knocked out of service during recent attacks, the organization said.

But activists working in the city said as many as five other hospitals in eastern neighborhoods were still somewhat functional.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) emergency coordinator Teresa Sancristoval said Saturday’s bombardment of hospitals marked “a dark day for east Aleppo.”

“The attacks have destroyed entire hospitals, electric generators, emergency rooms and wards, forcing them to stop all medical activities,” she said.

“It is not only MSF that condemns indiscriminate attacks on civilians or civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, but also humanitarian law. The message is simple and I don’t know how to say it any louder: stop bombing hospitals.”

One of those hit was a children’s hospital, forcing staff to evacuate babies. MSF said that three floors were destroyed in the facility — the only hospital exclusively for children in the area.

“What is not clear is how much longer the health system, already on its knees, can carry on functioning unless the bombing stops and medical supplies are allowed in,” said Luis Montial, MSF deputy head of mission for Syria.

CNN has not been able to independently verify the extent of the strikes, with little access to eastern Aleppo.

It is unclear how many children have died in the attacks, but at least four were reported killed in strikes on Wednesday. Activists said there were likely to be more children among the dead

In regime-held western Aleppo, two people were killed and seven were injured Saturday when two neighborhoods were bombed by “terrorist groups,” according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. On Friday, five people were killed in the shelling, including two children, the state agency said.

A student at Aleppo University in the west told CNN that security forces had gathered students in the university’s main square on Sunday to protest against rebels in eastern Aleppo.

The student, who CNN is not naming for security reasons, also said they had been told to appeal to the United Nations to have opposition armed groups removed from the east so that the siege on civilians can be lifted.