Syrian government forces and allied militia renewed a heavy bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Tuesday after a pause of several weeks. Russia, whose air force is bombing in support of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, says it has not taken part in the latest Aleppo attack. Moscow has, however, escalated its role in the war, launching attacks on other rebel-held areas from the sea.
The government, backed by the Russian air force and Shi'ite militias, has this year steadily closed in on eastern Aleppo, first besieging a population estimated by the United Nations to number 270,000 and then launching a major assault in September.
Rebels deeply entrenched
Fighting was reported on the southern and eastern periphery of the rebel-held area on Friday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that reports on the war, said Friday's clashes were the fiercest this week. City streets blocked with rubble in eastern Aleppo. Photo: AP
Sources on both sides said pro-government militias were mobilised in large numbers.
An official in the Levant Front rebel group, which fights under the Free Syrian Army banner, said pro-government forces appeared to be seeking to advance along a highway that bisects the rebel-held part of Aleppo. Smoke rising and fires still burning after airstrikes hit the Al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo on Friday. Photo: AP
His group lost a commander along with a number of his men in the fighting, he said. "The militias are coming in strongly in the areas they are trying to storm. There are few frontlines in Syria in general at the moment, most of the focus of the regime and militias is in Aleppo," he said.
A source on the government side confirmed large mobilisation by pro-Assad forces. The source said the shelling of recent days was in preparation for ground operations. A media unit run by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi'ite group fighting in support of Assad, said the army had made progress in north-eastern Aleppo. An injured child amid the chaos of eastern Aleppo. Photo: AP
Rebels repelled an attempt by pro-government militias to advance in the Sheikh Saeed area on the southern periphery of eastern Aleppo after heavy bombardment including barrel bombs, Al-Farouk Abu Bakr, a commander in the Ahrar al-Sham group, said.
In the four days since bombardment resumed, the Observatory says it has documented 65 deaths and hundreds of injuries in eastern Aleppo, with four deaths and dozens of injuries in government-held west Aleppo.
'Nowhere is safe'
Mohamad Abboush, an east Aleppo resident, said an air strike killed two of his relatives, a 45-year-old uncle and a 12-year-old cousin, on Friday morning. As they sought out medical care for other relatives wounded in the attack, he said they found one hospital in ruins and another in flames.
The air strike had completely destroyed a four-storey apartment block where his relatives had been living in the Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood, he said. The survivors had been taken to houses in another area, but nowhere was safe.
"The whole of Aleppo is being bombed," he said.
The Observatory said government forces had targeted areas near three hospitals to keep them out of service. The government has previously denied such accusations.
In the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, a witness said the shelling and air strikes ongoing since Thursday evening were the worst they had seen for at least a year.
The Observatory said air strikes and shelling on the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma have in the past 24 hours killed at least 22 people – 10 of them children – and injured dozens.
The death toll was expected to rise due to the serious nature of many of the injuries.