Assad regime’s jets have launched more than 150 airstrikes on eastern Aleppo in the last 24 hours, killing at least 90 people in the northern city and its countryside, according to residents.
The latest raids on Friday, part of a new Assad regime’s offensive to recapture rebel-held parts of Aleppo, destroyed emergency service structures, as well as underground shelters used by civilians to hide from bombings.
At least 30 neighbourhoods were targeted, activist Amr al-Halabi reporting from the city said, adding that the relentless bombardment was hampering the ability of rescue workers to help civilians caught up in the fighting.
Three centers for a volunteer rescue group known as the White Helmets were also hit in the raids, while at least 40 residential buildings were destroyed.
“We have four centres in eastern Aleppo. The aircraft targeted three centres. Two of them are now out of service,” Abdul Rahman al-Hassani, of the White Helmets, told Al Jazeera.
He added that five vehicles belonging to the White Helmets were destroyed, including an ambulance.
“Our centres were the direct target [of the strikes],” Hassani said.
Ammar al Selmo, the head of Civil Defence, said the rescuers themselves were targeted, with three of their four centers in Aleppo hit.
“What’s happening now is annihilation in every sense of the word,” he told Reuters. “Today the bombardment is more violent, with a larger number of planes.”
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) September 23, 2016
90+ airstrikes hit besieged #Aleppo since last night.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) September 23, 2016
— Julian Röpcke (@JulianRoepcke) September 23, 2016
Second day of fierce attacks
It was the second consecutive day of such fierce attacks, with one resident saying the bombing continued all night and into the morning.
“We feel the earth trembling and shaking under our feet. Aleppo is burning,” Bahaa al-Halabi, an activist from a besieged rebel-held district told DPA news agency.
“People are not safe anymore, even in shelters,” resident Yassin Abu Raed said. Other locals said the latest raids were destroying underground shelters people had built.
Video images filmed by residents showed a young girl screaming as rescuers frantically dug her out of rubble, pulling her out alive. Another showed rescuers digging out a toddler with their bare hands, shouting “God is Great” as they lifted him from the debris. The boy showed no signs of life as he was rushed off in a rescuer’s arms.
Several residents said explosions had struck with far greater force than anything that had hit the city in the past, making bigger craters and bringing entire buildings down.
“I woke up to a powerful earthquake though I was in a place far away from where the missile landed,” said a rebel commander in a voice recording sent to Reuters. His group had “martyrs under the rubble” in three locations.
A new offensive declared
In a statement on its official website, the Syrian defence ministry called on Aleppo residents to move to regime-held areas, adding that there would be “no detention, or inquiry to any citizen” who reached the checkpoints that divide the city.
An army source said on Friday that the offensive would be “comprehensive”, with a ground assault following air and artillery bombardment. “With respect to the air or artillery strikes, they may continue for some time,” he said.
“We have begun reconnaissance, aerial and artillery bombardment,” he told the AFP news agency.
“This could go on for hours or days before the ground operation starts. The timing of the ground operation will depend on the results of the strikes and the situation on the ground.”
The Assad regime forces, strengthened by Russian air power and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.
Syrian state television reported late on Friday that the army had managed to advance and secure control over a road near Ramousah in southwest Aleppo, but this was denied by rebels. They said several attempts by the army to advance had failed.
Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.
The assault left no doubt that the Assad regime and its Russian allies had spurned a plea from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to halt flights to resurrect the ceasefire, which collapsed on Monday after a week of halting the violence.
“My fear is that the bombings of the last few hours in Aleppo show that the regime is actually playing the card of partitioning Syria and its backers are letting it happen,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayraud told reporters.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.