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Women, children killed as Syrian rebels shell Kurdish area in Aleppo: Monitor

18 civilians were killed in 'indiscriminate' shelling by an unknown Syrian rebel group targeting the Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood in Aleppo
Syrian opposition fighters in the Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood of Aleppo in December 2015 (AFP)

A pregnant woman and three children were among 18 civilians killed in "indiscriminate" shelling of a Kurdish neighbourhood by Syrian rebels in the northern city of Aleppo, a monitoring group and Kurdish forces said on Wednesday. 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 70 people, including 30 children, were also wounded in Tuesday's attack, adding that the shelling was a violation of a ceasefire agreement.

"A major shelling attack on Tuesday has left 18 civilians dead, including three children and two women, a pregnant one and an elderly one," according to the Observatory.

The attack targeted the majority-Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsoud, where some 50,000 residents are caught in the crossfire of government-held districts and those controlled by rebels.

"This is a very clear violation of the ceasefire" in place in Syria since 27 February, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Abdel Rahman said the rebels want to take the neighbourhood because it would allow them to have "a launching pad for attacks" on government forces.

“The situation in Sheikh Maqsoud is very bad, the attacks of these rebel groups are continuing, and most of the casualties are women and children,” Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu told Kurdish ARA News agency. 

“These groups want to take control of Sheikh Maqsoud at any cost. They are indiscriminately shelling the neighbourhood and killing civilians,” he added.  

Kurdish military sources in Syria told ANA that Islamist militant rebels were behind the attacks but did not officially identify the group.

Zara Salih, a member of the political committee of the Syrian Kurdish Yekiti Party told the agency that the "al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham want to retake this area to open and control the way towards Afrin city north of Aleppo." Other Kurdish officials, however, seemed to indicate that Jaish al-Islam could be behind the attack. 

Syria's main opposition bloc, the High Negotiations Committee, told MEE that an official statement had not been made yet but could be made in the coming hours. 

Aleppo became a divided city in 2012 after a rebel onslaught was met with resistance by the Syrian army.

Kurds represent about 15 percent of Syria's population and have tried to avoid confrontation with the government since war broke out in 2011, although rebel groups have accused them of complicity with the Assad forces and the Russians.

Early last month, Kurdish militias in Aleppo clashed with rebels in some of Syria’s most intense fighting seen since the ceasefire began at the end of February. 

On 17 March, Kurdish parties, including the powerful Democratic Union Party (PYD) and their allies, announced the creation of a "federal system" in northern Syria. 

The announcement was heavily criticised by Syria's opposition, who have vowed to use "all the political and military force" at their disposal to fight it.

The Kurdish factions have not been included in the Geneva-based peace talks. 

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests but has since morphed into a multi-front war drawing in regional powers.

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