'Unprecedented' bombing campaign intensifies in rebel-held areas of Aleppo

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, a destroyed ambulance is seen outside the Syrian Civil Defense main center after airstrikes in Ansari neighborhood in the rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo, Syria, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. A Syria monitoring group and a rescue worker say an intense air bombing campaign has targeted several neighborhoods in rebel-held part of Aleppo city, including centers of the award-winning volunteer civil defense group known as the White Helmets. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Sarah El Deeb

A BOMBING campaign has intensified in rebel-held districts of Aleppo, targeting several neighbourhoods as the Syrian government launched a new offensive in the city.

The intense bombing and the declaration of a new offensive come as diplomatic efforts failed to salvage a ceasefire that lasted nearly a week before giving way to a new level of violence.

Residents and activists said the bombing, which began in earnest late on Wednesday, has been unprecedented, targeting residential areas, infrastructure and the award-winning volunteer civil defence group known as the White Helmets.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least seven civilians, including three children, were killed in about 30 raids that began overnight.

A member of the city's forensic team, Mohammed Abu Jaafar, said he had documented nine deaths since late on Thursday, including five women and two children. Abu Jaafar said it was impossible to document casualties and injuries on Friday because of the intensity of the bombing.

Ibrahim Alhaj, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence, said three of the group's centres had been targeted in the air bombing campaign that usually accelerates after dark.

By Friday morning, one centre in the Ansari neighbourhood in the southern part of the rebel-held district had been put out of service after it was hit. Ambulances and the one fire engine that serves the rebel-held part of Aleppo had been damaged.

In another centre, Mr Alhaj said, a bomb fell in the courtyard of the centre and the extent of the damage was not clear.

"It is really critical. (Syrian president Bashar Assad's air forces) have directly targeted civil defence centres," Mr Alhaj said. There were no reported casualties among the group's volunteers.

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

"The regime tried to advance in several neighbourhoods in Aleppo," he said, adding that rebels have so far repelled all attacks. He said the attack on civil defence centres had delayed and hindered their work since some vehicles were destroyed.

Amid the intense campaign, it has become even more deadly for the civil defence teams to move. Already suffering from a shortage of fuel, their vehicles have been hard pressed to meet the increased demand on their services.

For hours on Thursday, the teams searched to save civilians who were buried under rubble in several neighbourhoods.

A Syrian military official said air strikes and shelling in Aleppo might continue for an extended period and the operation will expand into a ground invasion of rebel-held districts.

Other residents reported that one of two water stations feeding the city had been hit. A pro-government TV station, Addounia TV, blamed the armed groups for targeting the water station in Bab al-Nairab which feeds both sides of the contested city.

The station said pumping from the station has ceased, but said work had begun to fix it. It was not immediately possible to verify or assess the extent of the damage or independently confirm who hit it.

After a contentious two-and-a-half hour meeting with colleagues in New York, US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said they would meet again on Friday in a bid to find a way forward.

Despite a week of diplomatic talks and attempts to seek consensus, developments on the ground in Syria seem to have overshadowed prospects for bringing about calm


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