Aleppo reels from strikes as Russia accused of 'war crimes'

Reuters photographs from inside Syria's Aleppo taken over 48 hours show the destruction of the latest Syrian government offensive which has reportedly killed hundreds of people.
Men inspect the damage after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on Sept 25, 2016.
Men inspect the damage after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on Sept 25, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

ALEPPO, Syria (AFP) - Residents of Syria's Aleppo faced worsening food and medical shortages on Monday (Sept 26) as warplanes again pounded the city after Western powers at the UN accused Russia of war crimes.

A fresh wave of intensive air strikes hit the city's opposition-controlled east from dawn on Monday, an AFP correspondent in the city said, on the morning after Moscow and Damascus faced fierce criticism at the UN Security Council.

During an emergency session 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 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 British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft.

Moscow hit back at the accusations on Monday, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov 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".

The worst violence to hit the divided city in years continued on Monday, with residents warning that stores of food and vital medical supplies were dwindling to nothing.

Monday's air strikes were particularly heavy on two rebel-held districts, Al-Mashhad and Sayf al-Dawla, and sparked large fires, the AFP correspondent said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said "dozens of raids" had hit districts of east Aleppo after midnight on Sunday, with many wounded and at least two civilians killed.

It was the fourth day of intense air raids on the city since a defiant Syrian regime launched a new assault, vowing to retake all of Aleppo following the collapse early last week of a short-lived ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States.

The Observatory said Monday that at least 128 people, nearly all civilians, had been killed in Syrian and Russian raids on eastern Aleppo since late Thursday.

Among the dead were 20 children and nine women, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

At least 36 civilians, including 11 children and five women, were also killed in raids targeting rural areas of Aleppo province, he said.

A Syrian military source told AFP regime forces had no intention of letting up on rebel-held areas.

"The air force will bomb any terrorist movements, this is an irreversible decision," the source said, reiterating that the regime's goal was to "recapture all regions of Syria" outside its control.

A medical source in rebel-held Aleppo said hospitals were struggling to deal with a huge number of casualties.

"Hospitals that are still in service are under a lot of pressure due to the significant number of wounded in recent days, and the major shortage of blood," the source told AFP.

"Because of this, serious injuries are requiring immediate amputations," he said.

With Aleppo back under siege since regime forces again fully surrounded the city in early September, residents were having to deal with food shortages and skyrocketing prices as well as intensifying violence.

The price of a portion of bread had risen to 500 Syrian pounds (S$3.18) from 350 Syrian pounds last week, the AFP correspondent said, and food was becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Several charity kitchens in eastern districts were no longer operating because of the danger of air strikes.

Water supplies also remained cut to many areas after pumping stations were damaged at the weekend.

"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," Hassan Yassin, a 40-year-old father of four in the Ferdus neighbourhood, told AFP.

Aleppo has been divided since mid-2012 between government control in the west and rebels in the east and has been a key battleground in Syria's five-year war.

At the Security Council meeting, Power voiced some of the strongest criticism yet of Russia's support for President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism," she said.

Russian launched air strikes in support of Assad last September, helping regime forces to regain ground lost to a wide range of opposition forces.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has also warned that the use of advanced weaponry against civilians could amount to war crimes.

Ban called on world powers to "work harder for an end to the nightmare" in Syria that has left more than 300,000 people dead and driven millions from their homes.