MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia will not ask the Syrian regime to halt air raids on the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, as it believes they are helping to combat extremist groups, Moscow's foreign ministry said Saturday.
"No, we are not going to put pressure on (Damascus) because one must understand that the situation in Aleppo is part of this fight against the terrorist threat," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
Aleppo, capital of the northern province of the same name, is a key battleground and of vital strategic significance to both sides in the Syrian civil war.
Despite a truce which came into force on Feb 27, what was once Syria's economic powerhouse has become the scene of some of the worst fighting in a conflict which has killed more than 270,000 people in the past five years.
The past week has seen a spike in fighting which has left more than 200 dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Dozens of civilians on the rebel-held side of Syria's second city had to flee their homes early Saturday for fear of a ninth straight day of air raids by regime aircraft, an AFP reporter in Aleppo said.
Some 250 civilians have been killed in raids since they began on April 22 or else been caught in army and rebel crossfire, according to the Observatory.
US officials have accused Moscow of backing the attacks by a Damascus regime which Russia supports as the Syrian government gears up for an expected assault on Aleppo.
On Thursday, Washington appealed to Moscow to keep President Bashar al-Assad's regime in check and the United States also expressed outrage over a deadly air strike on an Aleppo hospital.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the strike matched a pattern of Syrian government attacks targeting health workers.
The Russian army responded by denying it was backing the regime strikes and indicated that no Russian war planes have flown over the city in recent days.
"Our army and the US army discuss the situation in Aleppo daily," Gatilov said Saturday.
In its daily report on Syria, the Russian defence ministry said it had recorded "three ceasefire violations in the city of Aleppo", blaming them all on the rebels.