ALEPPO (Syria) • There was no respite for residents in the beleaguered rebel-held area of Aleppo yesterday as warplanes again pounded the Syrian city after Western powers at the United Nations accused Russia of war crimes.
A fresh wave of intensive air strikes hit the city's oppositioncontrolled east from dawn, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent in the city, just after Moscow and Damascus faced fierce criticism at the UN Security Council.
US Ambassador Samantha Power accused Russia of "barbarism", while the British and French envoys went even further.
"War crimes are being committed here in Aleppo," French Ambassador Francois Delattre said, while Britain's envoy Matthew Rycroft spoke of "a new hell" unleashed on Syrians with bunker-busting bombs and more sophisticated weaponry used to pummel residential areas.
"It is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes," said Mr Rycroft.
The vitriol at the meeting at the UN headquarters in New York overshadowed any semblance of diplomacy. Mr Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador, spoke so quickly that the official interpreter had trouble keeping up, and at one point the ambassador, visibly exasperated, complained about it. He praised the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, saying it had shown "enviable restraint". The Russian envoy conceded that the surge in violence over the past days meant that "bringing peace is almost an impossible task now".
Mr Churkin again laid blame for the failed diplomacy with the US, accusing Washington of being unable to convince armed opposition groups that it backs on the ground to distance themselves from the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and abide by the ceasefire.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added to the criticism, denouncing "the overall unacceptable tone and rhetoric of the representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States, which can damage and harm our relations".
Yesterday was the fourth day of intense air raids on Aleppo since the defiant Assad regime launched a new assault, vowing to retake all of the city following the collapse of the truce early last week.
Syria's largest city, Aleppo has become the main battleground of the six-year conflict in the country. Capturing rebel districts in the city, where more than 250,000 civilians are trapped, would mark the biggest victory of the civil war for the Assad regime.
Mr Brita Hagi Hassan, president of the city council, said the bombardment over the past few days had been exceptional.
"The planes are not leaving the skies at all... Life in the city is paralysed. Everyone is cooped up in their homes, sitting in the basements. These missiles are even targeting the basements and shelters that we'd set up to protect people," he said from the Aleppo countryside. Mr Hassan has been unable to get back into east Aleppo for several weeks because of the siege.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said that at least 128 people, nearly all civilians, including children, had been killed in the Syrian and Russian raids on eastern Aleppo since late last Thursday.
Residents are also facing worsening food and medical shortages while water supplies remained cut to many areas after pumping stations were damaged at the weekend. Several charity kitchens in eastern districts were no longer operating because of the danger of air strikes.
"We endured through years of bombardments and did not leave Aleppo. But now there is no bread, no drinking water, nothing in the markets. The situation is getting worse every day," Mr Hassan Yassin, a 40-year-old father of four in the Ferdus neighbourhood, told AFP.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES