Russia said on Tuesday it did not launch air strikes on Aleppo over the past week, but a monitor and a civil defense official said that rebel-held parts of the divided city had been struck in recent days.
Defence ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Russian and Syrian planes had not even approached, let alone bombed, Aleppo since last Tuesday when Russia suspended air strikes ahead of a pause in hostilities.
“Flights over Aleppo by the Russian and Syrian air forces have been completely halted for the past seven days,” said Konashenkov.
That ceasefire was being extended, Sergei Rudskoi, a defense ministry official, said separately on Tuesday, without specifying for how long.
Rudskoi said that meant Russian and Syrian planes would continue to stay out of a 10 km (6-mile) zone around Aleppo.
Six humanitarian corridors in eastern Aleppo, which opened as part of the pause in hostilities to allow civilians to flee, were still operating, said Konashenkov.
He said 48 women and children had left the city late on Monday, escorted by Russian military officers. He added that Russia was ready to help broker further ceasefires to allow wounded civilians to be evacuated.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes had resumed since the lull in fighting ended on Saturday, focusing on major front lines, including in the city’s southwest.
Ibrahim Abu al-Laith, a civil defense official in eastern Aleppo, also said air strikes and shelling had hit the rebel-held half of the city near front lines in the past week.
“There was artillery shelling…and there were planes, the city was hit by several strikes,” he said.
On Tuesday, districts outside the city to the west were hit by air strikes, the Observatory said. Air strikes had continued outside Aleppo during the ceasefire.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday Russia remains committed to removing what it calls terrorist organizations from Syria and preventing the disintegration of the country.
“We need to liberate and do everything possible to prevent the division of the country,” Peskov said in a television interview, adding that he did not see an end to the Syria conflict in the foreseeable future.
Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on 19 September.
Since 19 September, more than 800 civilians were killed and more than 2000 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.
Rebels refused the ceasefire
Rebels did not accept the ceasefire, which they said did nothing to alleviate the situation of those who chose to remain in eastern Aleppo, and was part of a government policy to purge cities of political opponents.
While Russia has accused rebels of thwarting its efforts to evacuate civilians, saying they open fire on those wanting to leave, but rebel groups say Syrian government forces and allies have been shelling and sniping around the corridors.
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported on Tuesday that government forces had captured territory from rebels in the southwestern countryside of Aleppo.
They have retaken the town of Talet Bazo which was controlled by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, it said.
The area is near military bases and was considered to be one of the last strongholds of the armed group in the divided city.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, 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.
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.