Russia renews heavy bombing of Syria’s Aleppo


ALEPPO — Regime ally Russia carried out its heaviest strikes in days on Syria’s Aleppo Tuesday, as at least five children were killed in rebel fire on a school in the war-torn country’s south.

The raids killed 16 civilians, a monitor said, and caused massive damage in several residential areas of the city’s rebel-held east.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, cancelled a planned trip to Paris in a row over the violence in Syria, where Moscow is helping President Bashar Al Assad’s forces in an operation to recapture all of Aleppo.

Syria’s army announced a bid last month to retake the city, which has been divided since mid-2012.

The assault began after the collapse of a short-lived truce negotiated by Washington and Moscow, and has seen the besieged east of the city come under fierce aerial assault.

The army said last Wednesday it would reduce its bombardment, after days of bombing that killed hundreds and destroyed the largest remaining hospital in the rebel-held east.

But an AFP correspondent and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported renewed heavy bombing on Tuesday.

“This is the heaviest Russian bombardment since the Syrian regime announced it would reduce the bombardment” last week, observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The 16 dead, among them four children, were killed in raids in the Bustan Al Qasr and Fardos neighbourhoods, the observatory said.

An AFP correspondent in Bustan Al Qasr saw a multi-storey residential building that had been destroyed, its facade sheared off in the air attack.

Members of the White Helmets rescue force pulled two lifeless toddlers from the building and wrapped them in white sheets.

Footage by the Aleppo Media Centre activist group showed a toddler, blood smeared across her face, lying on a hospital bed.

An older man near her is wailing in pain as a team of medics bends over him, calling out instructions to the nurses.

The Britain-based observatory — which relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information — says it determines what planes carried out raids according to their type, location, flight patterns and the munitions involved.
Backed by Russian air raids, government forces have been advancing street by street into rebel-held parts of Aleppo.

At least 290 people, mostly civilians, have been killed by government or Russian fire since the operation began, according to the observatory.

Rebel forces were also firing on western government-held districts of Aleppo on Tuesday, with state news agency SANA reporting four dead and 14 wounded in rebel bombing of Hamdaniyeh district.

SANA also reported an unidentified number of injuries in a mortar shell attack near the famous Umayyad mosque in the Old City of Damascus on Tuesday.

An AFP correspondent in Damascus said later that there was intense mortar fire raining down on several neighbourhoods of the capital.

France-Russia tensions 

Elsewhere in Syria, state media said five children were among six people killed in rebel rocket fire on a primary school in the southern city of Daraa.

The observatory also reported the deaths, saying at least 25 people were wounded and the death toll could rise because a number of the wounded were in critical condition.

Rebel forces hold most of Daraa province, but the provincial capital is largely controlled by the government.
The assault on Aleppo has sparked international condemnation, with fears for the fate of more than 250,000 civilians trapped inside the east of the city since the government imposed a siege in mid-July.

French President Francois Hollande on Sunday described the campaign in the city as a war crime, a day after Moscow vetoed a French-drafted UN resolution on a halt to air strikes on Aleppo.

In a sign of escalating tensions, the Kremlin on Tuesday said Putin had called off an October 19 visit to inaugurate an Orthodox church in Paris, but was “ready to visit when it is comfortable for President Hollande”.

Moscow would “wait for when that comfortable time comes,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The French presidency said it had told the Kremlin that Hollande would only meet Putin for a “working meeting” on Syria.

More than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, and more than half the population has been displaced.