Syria conflict: Aleppo strikes 'overwhelm' hospitals

An injured youth on a stretcher in Aleppo's Maadi district (17 December 2013) MSF called on all parties in the conflict to stop targeting civilian infrastructure

Hospitals in the Syrian city of Aleppo have been overwhelmed with casualties after a wave of air strikes which killed more than 100 people in recent days, Medecins Sans Frontieres says.

Indiscriminate and sustained attacks by government aircraft had caused significant damage in areas populated by civilians, the organisation warned.

Bodies are being lined up in front of hospitals for collection by relatives.

On Tuesday, warplanes stepped up their air strikes on rebel-held districts.

Eighteen people, including two children, were killed in the Shaar and Maadi areas, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group.

On Sunday, 76 people, including 28 children, died when barrel bombs were dropped on three eastern areas, the group said.

'Chaos'

Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)'s co-ordinator in Syria, said that in the past three days, helicopters had been targeting different areas, among them a school and the Haydarya roundabout, where people wait for public transport.

"In both cases, there were dozens of dead and injured people. A dozen bodies were being lined up in front of three hospitals waiting to be recovered by the families," he added.

Aftermath of air strike in Shaar district of Aleppo (17 December 2013) Fifteen people, including two children, were killed in Aleppo's Shaar district on Monday
Aftermath of air strike in Maadi district of Aleppo (17 December 2013) It was the third straight day of air raids on the city, formerly Syria's commercial hub
People inspect the bodies of people killed in air strikes in Aleppo's Maadi district (17 December 2013) The air force had been dropping barrels of explosives from helicopters and warplanes, activists said

MSF said the emergency was overcrowding the already stretched network of hospitals in Aleppo - most of which have been partially damaged or destroyed by more than a year of fierce fighting - and leaving them with little or no resources.

"Repeated attacks often lead to chaos and make it more difficult to treat the wounded, therefore increasing the number of fatalities," Mr Zabalgogeazkoa said.

"The ambulances are overwhelmed because they are called to several areas at the same time. Doctors face extremely difficult decisions because they receive such a significant flow of patients."

MSF said the massive influx of patients after the air strikes had emptied the stocks of critical drugs and medical materials for life-saving activities. The international humanitarian organisation said it had sent fresh supplies, but that many patients had to be sent elsewhere.

It called on all parties in the conflict to stop targeting civilian infrastructure and to stop using weapons with indiscriminate effects in urban areas.

British medic dies

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that the situation in Syria had "deteriorated beyond all imagination" and insisted that both sides stopped fighting before attending a proposed conference to find a political solution to the conflict in January.

On Tuesday, UN officials confirmed that the so-called Geneva II talks would actually open in the Swiss town of Montreux.

There are not enough hotel rooms left in Geneva on the 22 January because thousands of luxury watchmakers will be staying in the city for a trade fair.

After one day of talks between foreign ministers in Montreux, the conference will break up and reconvene on 24 January at the UN's headquarters in Geneva.

In a separate development, a British surgeon imprisoned in Syria for more than a year has died in detention shortly before he was to be released.

Dr Abbas Khan was arrested by government forces two days after arriving in Aleppo to treat injured civilians.

Earlier this year, his mother found him in a prison in Damascus weighing just five stone (32kg), barely able to walk and claiming he had been tortured.

A Syrian government official told the BBC that Dr Khan had killed himself, but his family told the BBC that they did not believe this.

UK Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said that it was clear that he had met his death in circumstances that were "at best extremely suspicious".

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