Russian and Syrian government aircraft pummelled rebel-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo on Sunday, escalating the battle for Syria’s second city.
Residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, recorded almost 50 attacks on Aleppo’s sprawling eastern suburbs, killing at least 16 civilians and overwhelming local hospitals.
A doctor in the one rebel-held neighbourhood said his colleagues were struggling to cope with the influx of casualties. Among the dead, he said, was an ambulance driver who had been dispatched to collect the wounded.
Bebars Mishal, an official with the White Helmets rescue brigade, said at least 32 people had been pulled from the rubble. “Day by day it’s getting worse .. it is the worst we have seen in a while,” he said.
Divided for years between rebel and government forces, Aleppo has been the focus of heavy fighting which has all-but destroyed an internationally-brokered ceasefire agreed in February. Russia has lent its firepower to the offensive, dramatically escalating across Syria in recent days.
In response, Aleppo’s rebels have upped their own attacks, firing missiles into government-controlled neighbourhoods. According to the Syrian Observatory, they killed more than 40 people over the weekend, most of them civilians.
One attack appeared to have damaged an Armenian Catholic church – photographs on social media showed shattered pews and a broken image of the Virgin Mary.
Elsewhere, a top Syrian Kurdish commander died on Sunday, several days after sustaining injuries during a US-backed campaign to unseat the Islamic State group from its de-facto Syrian capital, Raqqa.
Abu Layla, who commanded a brigade inside the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, was reportedly hit by Isil sniper fire on the outskirts of Manbij, one of the terror group’s key strongholds near the Turkish border.
Victory in the so-called ‘Manbij pocket’ would strangle one of Isil’s most important supply routes and pave the way for a final assault on Raqqa. But government forces are also attempting to reach the Isil capital first and were on Sunday night edging through Raqqa province, backed by Iranian, Lebanese and Russian firepower.