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Lakhdar Brahimi, left, with Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of United Nations DAVID KARP/AP/Press Association Images

UN peace envoy says Syria death toll is 'staggering'

Lakhdar Brahimi told the UN General Assembly that the destruction in the country is reaching “catastrophic proportions and the suffering of the people is immense”.

SYRIAN FORCES SHELLED rebel zones in Aleppo killing 19 people, a watchdog reported, as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi described the death toll in Syria as “staggering” and destruction “catastrophic.”

The pounding began before dawn and left 10 civilians dead in Aleppo’s southern neighbourhood of Bustan al-Qasr while a total of nine bodies, including those of children, were found in the Marjeh and Hanano neighbourhoods, the Britain-based watchdog said.

Activists have reported relentless bombardments and food shortages in rebel-held districts of the country’s commercial capital, while an AFP reporter who was in the northern city on Tuesday said life in the loyalist-controlled central area was relatively normal.

Airports increasingly targeted

Rebels meanwhile launched an attack on Wednesday on a military airport in the town of Albu Kamal in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor near the Iraqi border, the Observatory said.

“Fighting has been going on for hours inside Hamdan airport between soldiers and rebels, who have taken over large sections of the site,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that at least six rebels died in the assault.

Having failed to persuade the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, the rebel Free Syrian Army has increasingly targeted airports used by Syria’s regime as launchpads for attack helicopters and fighter jets.

The Observatory also reported that several areas in Damascus province including Yalda village just south of the capital were bombarded by regime forces on Wednesday, while the southern district of Tadamun in Damascus itself was shelled.

Local activists reported plumes of smoke hanging over the neighbourhood after Tadamun came under artillery and mortar fire, with helicopters also overhead.

The Observatory, in its daily toll of deaths countrywide, said at least 119 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday — 79 civilians, 28 soldiers and 12 rebels, including a 15-year-old.

In a preliminary toll for Wednesday, it said 21 civilians and six rebels had died, including the 19 people killed in Aleppo.

‘Staggering’ death toll

The ever-rising death toll was highlighted by Brahimi when he made his first address to the United Nations General Assembly since replacing Kofi Annan as UN-Arab League special envoy on Saturday.

“The death toll is staggering, the destruction is reaching catastrophic proportions and the suffering of the people is immense,” he said in a speech on Tuesday to the 193-member assembly in New York, during which he announced he would travel to Damascus in a few days.

Brahimi warned that the civil war was “deteriorating steadily” and said a coordinated international approach on Syria was “indispensable and very urgent.”

UN chief Ban Ki-moon in his address to the assembly denounced countries sending arms to Syria.

“Those who provide arms to either side are only contributing to further misery — and the risk of unintended consequences as the fighting intensifies and spreads,” Ban said.

He did not name any country, but Russia is President Bashar al-Assad’s main arms supplier while UN officials say Iran has also made arms deliveries to his forces.

Assad has accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of arming the opposition.

China said on Wednesday it supported a political transition in Syria and defended its record during a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton, meeting in Beijing with China’s top leadership, reiterated she was “disappointed” by Chinese and Russian vetoes of UN resolutions that would have threatened action against Assad to end the spiralling bloodshed.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called for all sides to end fighting, telling a joint news conference with Clinton: “Let me emphasise that China is not partial to any individual or any party.”

Humanitarian situation deteriorating

International Committee of the Red Cross chief Peter Maurer, on a mission to Syria to seek greater protection for civilians, has expressed concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation, raising the issue when he met Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, ICRC spokesman Hisham Hassan said.

At the meeting, he urged respect for international humanitarian law and stressed the need to ensure the ICRC could swiftly provide aid such as medical supplies and equipment to restore damaged water infrastructure, Hassan said.

State television said Assad assured Maurer that he supported the work of the Red Cross in Syria ”as long as it remains impartial and independent.”

According to the Observatory, more than 26,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt began 17 months ago — more than two thirds of them civilians. The figures are impossible to verify.

Read more news on Syria>

- © AFP, 2012

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