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Aleppo bombed by air before ground offensive

September 23, 2016

Syria's armed forces have called on civilians in Aleppo to flee rebel-held areas ahead of a ground offensive. The country has witnessed an escalation of violence in the wake of a nationwide "cessation of hostilities."

Syrien Aleppo zerstörte Gebäude
Aleppo has been devastated by airstrikesImage: picture-alliance/AA/J. al Rifai

The Russian-backed Syrian army launched dozens of airstrikes Friday on rebel-held areas of the northwestern city of Aleppo in preparation for a ground offensive, state media and several news agencies reported on Friday, citing military officials.

Numerous reports emerged of damage to emergency service facilities and underground shelters, leading many residents of the embattled city to hide in their homes, unable to flee.

"With respect to the air or artillery strikes, they may continue for some time depending on the field situation and the terrorists' losses," a Syrian military source told Reuters news agency.

"Like any military operation, it starts with preparatory airstrikes and artillery, and then the ground forces work according to the results of the strikes and their impact," the source added.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that uses a nationwide network of informants, reported by early evening at least 40 airstrikes.

The White Helmets rescue agency reported that at least 93 people had been killed during Friday's barrage.

Syrien Aleppo zerstörte Gebäude
A child walks among destroyed buildings in AleppoImage: Reuters/A. Ismail

Failed ceasefire

The Syrian army on Thursday announced "the start of its operations in the eastern districts of Aleppo," warning civilians to stay clear of "the headquarters and positions of the armed terrorist gangs."

The regime in Damascus regularly uses the term "terrorist" to describe all those fighting against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

The escalation of violence in Syria comes in the wake of a nationwide ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia that collapsed earlier this week. US State Secretary John Kerry called on Moscow and Damascus to halt aerial raids in a bid to salvage the "cessation of hostilities."

However, the Observatory reported apparent Russian aircraft taking part in airstrikes on Aleppo, Syria's second city.

Ammar al-Selmo, the head of the civil defense rescue services in Aleppo, said at least three of its four centers in the city had been hit by aerial bombardment.

"What's happening now is annihilation in every sense of the word," al-Selmo told Reuters. "Today, the bombardment is more violent, with a larger number of planes."

Water services have also been severed for nearly two million Syrians in Aleppo following Thursday and Friday's attacks, reported UNICEF, the United Nations children's agency.

More than 300,000 people in Syria have been killed and half the population displaced since government forces launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for Assad to step down in March 2011.

The international community has failed to provide a viable political solution to the more than five-year conflict, despite repeated efforts to implement nationwide ceasefires and peace talks.

ls/tj, kl (Reuters, AFP, dpa)