Residents of rebel-held east Aleppo have described scenes of devastation, with activists claiming that both Syrian and Russian warplanes have attacked the city hours after the announcement of a major new offensive. At least 70 people were reported dead.
As heavy bombing entered a second day, three medical facilities and two centres belonging to the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group, were hit in airstrikes that disabled some of their vehicles, cut off roads in the city and left victims trapped in the rubble. The White Helmets said more than 40 buildings were destroyed.
Dramatic footage also emerged of rescuers who pulled a young girl being pulled from the ruins of a building and appeared to rush her away for medical treatment. Sky News, which broadcast the footage, said it had been filmed on Friday in the Bab al-Nairab district of Aleppo. The Guardian has not been able to independently verify the details.
Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital, is divided into a western portion controlled by the government and an eastern area held by rebels. The eastern part has been besieged for two months, with an estimated 250,000 people in dire need of humanitarian aid.
Medics in the eastern districts spoke of their despair on Friday at international efforts to alleviate their suffering and anger at the continued assault on the population after the collapse of a brief ceasefire.
“Anger has filled everyone who remains in this city of rubble,” said Bara’a, a nurse. “Many of the wounded are children, and when you look in their eyes they weep and say we have nothing left. Curse this justice. They lose their limbs and become disabled for life and their only sin is that they are the children of Syria.
“They have burned their childhood and their innocence and made them homeless in their country and all we get in return are words and promises from outside. God curse humanity if this is what it has become.”
The Syrian military announced a new offensive on Thursday as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and other foreign ministers on the margins of a UN summit in New York, with the ostensible hope of restoring a week-long truce that collapsed on Monday.
Activists claimed the government and its Russian allies had deployed phosphorus and cluster munitions as well as barrel and vacuum bombs. It was unclear if government forces were planning an imminent ground incursion into the rebel-held districts, but some observers interpreted the intense shelling as a sign that such an effort would follow in due course.
A Syrian military source told Agence France-Presse the timing of the ground operation would “depend on the results of the strikes and the situation on the ground”.
Activists said the government of Bashar al-Assad also bombed one of two water distribution plants in the opening move of what the military command described as an operation to reclaim the opposition-controlled eastern districts of the city. “We need a miracle to save us from inevitable death,” said a doctor in the city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said more than 100 airstrikes had targeted eastern Aleppo since Thursday night, including 30 on Friday alone. At least 16 people had been killed in raids on Friday morning, it said. There were no reliable figures for the total number of victims since the collapse of the ceasefire, but the current bombardment of Aleppo is the most intense in months.
Locals shared several images and videos showing the devastation caused by the airstrikes, which they said had left so many dead and wounded that intensive care units in local hospitals had been mostly filled with victims.
A resident who lives near one of the bombed White Helmets centres said: “Dozens of wounded are still under the rubble because there are few methods of transportation in the city besides the emergency vehicles in the hospitals.”
The official Syrian army statement declaring the offensive followed several days of bombing of eastern Aleppo with barrel bombs dropped from helicopters and airstrikes by warplanes, which intensified on Thursday. The statement called for civilians to head to Syrian regime checkpoints to be escorted to safety.
In New York, Kerry said the only way to curb the bloodshed was for “the ones who have the air power in this part of the conflict to simply stop using it”.
“Absent a major gesture like this we don’t believe there is a point in making more promises or issuing more plans or announcing something that can’t be enforced or reached,” he said.
“We can’t go out and say we have an agreement when we don’t. Nor do we tell our partners there is a cessation when there isn’t. The simple reality is that we can’t resolve the crisis if one side is unwilling to do what is necessary to avoid escalation.
“We have exchanged ideas with the Russians and we plan to consult tomorrow with respect to those ideas. If the Russians come back to us with constructive proposals we will listen.”
A senior US official said the Syrian declaration of a new offensive had further undermined hope of restoring the ceasefire. Asked what the US would do if the Russian and Syrian governments did not respond with an end to the air campaign, the official said “obviously this is something we are giving a lot of thought to ourselves”.
Since Monday, the Syrian air force has stepped up its bombing of rebel-held areas, and Russia and Syria have been accused of involvement in an attack on a relief convoy outside Aleppo, which the UN has deemed a potential war crime.