Syria's Aleppo reels from new wave of air strikes

Rebel-held districts in east Aleppo came under intense air and artillery fire for a fifth night as the army prepared a ground offensive to recapture the whole of the divided city.

AFP| Updated: Sep 24, 2016, 20:37 PM IST
Syria's Aleppo reels from new wave of air strikes

Aleppo: Residents in Syria's battleground city of Aleppo cowered indoors Saturday as fierce air strikes toppled buildings and killed at least 32 civilians, after diplomatic efforts to revive a ceasefire failed.

Nearly two million civilians were without water in the devastated northern city after regime bombardment damaged a pumping station and rebels shut down another in retaliation, the United Nations said.

Rebel-held districts in east Aleppo came under intense air and artillery fire for a fifth night as the army prepared a ground offensive to recapture the whole of the divided city.

Saturday`s death toll of 32 was expected to rise because people remained trapped under rubble, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

"We were home when a missile crashed into our road," said one resident of the Bab al-Nayrab district who gave his name as Nizar.

"Half of the building just caved in and our baby was hit in the head. He died on the spot," Nizar said, as the body of his son lay on the ground wrapped in a blanket.

Seven people were killed in a strike as they queued to buy yoghurt at a market in the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood, which sits along the front line dividing the government-held west from the rebel-held east of the city.

The attack left a pool of blood and body parts strewn at the site, an AFP correspondent reported.

Medics said they were carrying out many amputations to try to save the wounded and supplies of blood and IV drips were running out.

On Friday, at least 47 people were killed in heavy bombing, among them seven children, the Observatory said.

There was massive destruction in several neighbourhoods, including Al-Kalasseh and Bustan al-Qasr, where some streets were almost erased by the bombardment.

Unexploded rockets were still buried in the roads in some areas, and elsewhere enormous craters were left by the bombing.Residents and activists described the use of a missile that produced earthquake-like tremors upon impact and razed buildings right down to basement level where many residents desperately seek protection during attacks.

The civil defence organisation known as the White Helmets was overwhelmed by the scale of the destruction, particularly after several of its bases were damaged by bombing on Friday.

The group says it has just two fire engines left for all of east Aleppo which, and like its ambulances, they are struggling to move around the city.

With no electricity or fuel for generators, the streets of Aleppo are pitch black and difficult to navigate at night, and the fuel shortage has also made it tough to fill up vehicles.

In many places, rubble strewn across streets has rendered them impassable, effectively sealing off neighbourhoods to traffic.

On Saturday morning, the streets were nearly empty, with just a few residents out looking for bread.

The UN children`s agency UNICEF said the loss of mains water posed serious health risks in rebel-held areas as the only alternative source of drinking water was from highly contaminated wells.

"It is critical for children`s survival that all parties to the conflict stop attacks on water infrastructure," it said.

Further south in the central city of Homs, a convoy of 36 trucks carrying food and medicine reached the rebel-held district of Waer on Saturday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.The denial of access to food, water and medicines has been used repeatedly as a weapon by all sides in the five-year war, which has cost more than 300,000 lives and displaced over half the population.

The approximately 250,000 people in east Aleppo have been under near-continuous siege since government troops encircled the area in mid-July.

A truce deal negotiated between Moscow and Washington brought a few days of respite from the violence in Aleppo earlier this month, but no humanitarian aid.

The deal has since fallen apart, and on Thursday the Syrian army announced an operation to retake all of Aleppo, urging civilians in the east to distance themselves from "terrorists" and promising them safe passage to government-controlled areas.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov again in New York on Friday to try to restore the ceasefire, but without success.

Kerry said they had made "a little bit of progress" on resolving their differences over the crisis.

But Lavrov said that it would be "senseless" to impose a new truce because the United States had failed to separate moderate rebel groups from jihadists.