Aleppo: Air strikes and ferocious artillery bombardment pounded rebel-held east Aleppo on Friday as an escalating military offensive underscored the Syrian regime`s determination to take full control of the divided city.
Streets were deserted and residents took refuge indoors as the government unleashed a fourth straight day of bombardment on opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo, Syria`s second city.
The artillery fire was the most intense in east Aleppo in around two years, according to AFP`s correspondent there, while rescue workers said it was too dangerous to move around bomb-scarred neighbourhoods.
"I have never heard such intense artillery bombardments," said Najib Fakhoury, head of the White Helmets volunteer rescue group in the rebel-held Ansari district.
"Earlier, we received a call for help to extinguish a fire," he said. "But we cannot go because the shells are falling on the streets".
Aleppo has been ravaged by some of the worst violence of the five-year-old war, which has displaced more than half the population and killed over 300,000 people.
President Bashar al-Assad`s Russian-backed government has carried out several bombing campaigns this year but has failed to dislodge the rebels from east Aleppo, where more than 250,000 civilians are living under siege by the army.
Barrel bombs and other ordnance rained down until midnight only to resume in the early hours, an AFP correspondent reported.
Dozens of shells and rockets were heard falling on several east Aleppo districts, causing the ground to shake.
Regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs -- crude unguided explosive devices whose use has been denounced by international rights groups because they kill indiscriminately.The bombardment came as government troops pressed an assault on the southern neighbourhood of Sheikh Said, which they briefly entered before being pushed back by rebel fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The rebels riposted by firing more than a dozen rockets into government-held areas of the city, the Britain-based monitoring group added.
At least 65 civilians have been killed since the offensive resumed on Tuesday, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information.
The bombardment ended a period of relative respite, particularly in east Aleppo, where Moscow halted air strikes on October 18 ahead of a series of brief ceasefires.
The ceasefires were intended to encourage residents and surrendering rebels to leave the east, but few did so, fearing moving into government-held territory.
Once the country`s main commercial and industrial hub, Aleppo has been devastated by fighting since the rebels overran the east of the city in 2012.
The rebels have been besieged by the army since July and aid agencies say food stocks in the sector are virtually exhausted.
The 1.2 million civilians living in government-held areas have come under repeated rocket fire by the rebels that has killed dozens.
Russia, which intervened in Syria in September 2015 in support of Assad`s regime, said on Wednesday that it had not carried out any raids on Aleppo since October 18.
Instead it has concentrated its strikes in the northern province of Idlib, controlled by an alliance of rebels and jihadists.
Russian and Syrian aircraft continued to bomb several cities and towns in Idlib on Friday, according to the AFP correspondent in the province.
Regime artillery fire also hit the besieged rebel-held town of Douma, east of Damascus.
In New York, meanwhile, the UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously decided to extend for another year the mandate of a panel tasked with investigating chemical attacks in Syria and identifying those responsible.
Backed by Russia, the council adopted a US-drafted resolution to prolong the joint investigation by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) until November 2017.