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White Helmet centres targeted in renewed Syrian regime attacks

Volunteers from the group say they have not seen such bombardment in their life [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 September, 2016

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Several centres belonging to the volunteer civil defence group have been hit in rebel-held east Aleppo, as pro-regime forces embark on a new assault of the area.
A new Syrian regime offensive on opposition-controlled east Aleppo has seen several centres of the award-winning volunteer civil defence group, popularly known as the White Helmets, targeted by airstrikes. 

Ibrahim al-Hajj, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence, said three of the group’s centres had been targeted with one centre, in the Ansari neighbourhood, rendered out of service after it was hit at 7:00 am on Friday morning.

Ambulances and the only fire engine that serves rebel-held Aleppo were damaged.

"It is really critical. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's air forces have directly targeted civil defence centres," Hajj said. 

"I have not seen in my life such bombardment. It is very, very intense.”

Hajj said that pro-regime forces had tried to advance in several neighbourhoods but their progress had been repelled by rebel fighters.

However the forces successfully advanced, seizing buildings located on the frontline and pushing rebel fighters back in the southern al-Amiriah district, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Friday.

Amidst the devastation wrought by the renewed bombing campaign, Hajj noted that the ability of the White Helmets to respond to escalating emergencies and aid civilians had been inhibited since some of the group’s vehicles had been destroyed.

On Thursday civil defence teams spent hours attempting to save civilians buried under rubble in several neighbourhoods of east Aleppo. Shortages of fuel for their vehicles making the task all the more difficult.

On Friday an unnamed Syrian military official was quoted on Syrian state TV stating that airstrikes and shelling of rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo could continue for an extended period and that operations in the city would “include a ground offensive."

Speaking to The New Arab, Hassan, a volunteer with a White Helmets team in east Aleppo said that he was in a civil defence base in the al-Zubdiya neighbourhood on Friday morning when a helicopter bombed it.

"It was at 7:00 am, and it was a direct targeting," Hassan said. "No one got hurt – we were about to rescue people [after earlier bombing] in the nearby area, but it suddenly hit us... It was an awful morning."

After a Russian-US brokered ceasefire collapsed in spectacular fashion, intense fighting has resumed on several fronts in Syria’s civil war.

Despite a week of intense diplomatic talks in New York between the US and Russia aimed at curbing the violence in Syria, developments on the ground appear to have eclipsed diplomatic efforts.

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