At least 38 people have been killed in a rebel bombardment of Aleppo, many of them children. As "Islamic State" presses an offensive in the north, France and Russia are considering military options.
At least 38 people were killed in Aleppo on Tuesday when Syrian rebels shelled three government-held neighborhoods in the west of the city. Among the dead were said to be 14 children.
"Rocket fire on government districts is still going on," said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, giving a toll of at least 150 wounded in the districts of Salaheddine, al-Hamdaniya and New Aleppo. "It's one of the heaviest death tolls yet from rebel bombardment of Aleppo."
While the west of the city is controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rebels in the east and regularly fire rockets and makeshift missiles into the government-held parts of the city.
Over three years, the rebel-held east has been pounded by air raids and government shelling, with much of the population escaping to the countryside or other countries.
France warns of IS progress
In the French parliament on Tuesday, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed that Islamic State was making "very significant progress" in Syria, particularly in the Aleppo region. However, the gains being made by the militant Islamists appeared to be at the expense of other rebel groups.
"There is an extremely strong offensive taking place on the small town of Marea, which if it succeeded would wipe out what we still call the Free Syrian Army or the national Syrian coalition, or what is left of it," said Le Drian. The minister was defending France's decision to carry out surveillance flights over Syria, ahead of possible air strikes.
While Le Drian ruled out any ground intervention in Syria, he said Paris would support any such operation by countries in the region.
On Tuesday, the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh was hit by a third bomb attack in two days, with the official news agency SANA putting the death toll from the latest blast at seven. "Islamic State" (IS) claimed responsibility for all three attacks, with 32 people having been killed on Monday.
Putin defends position on Syria
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his country's military assistance to Assad's regime, saying that it was the only way to defeat IS.
"Without an active participation of the Syrian authorities and the military, it would be impossible to expel the terrorists from that country and the region as a whole, and to protect the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Syrian people from destruction," said Putin.
Putin has backed Assad throughout the four-and-a-half year war in Syria, claiming that the flow of refugees from the country would have been even greater without Moscow's intervention.
According to the Pentagon, Russia is engaged in a military build-up at an airport in the coastal province of Latakia, indicating that Moscow wants to run air mission from there.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States would like Russia to engage constructively with the international coalition fighting IS in Syria, rather than build up its own military presence there.
rc/sms (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)