Heavy bombardment of the rebel-held eastern area of Aleppo has left about 1.75 million people without running water, the United Nations has said.
Intense attacks on Friday prevented repairs to the city’s damaged Bab al-Nayrab pumping station, which supplies water to 250,000 people in the eastern parts of the city, according to the UN’s children’s agency, Unicef.
In retaliation, the nearby Suleiman al-Halabi station, which pumps water to 1.5 million people in the west of Aleppo, was switched off, it said.
Fighting continued on Saturday, with pro-government forces intensifying the siege around eastern Aleppo and capturing a former refugee camp overlooking roads into the area. Rebel officials said heavy airstrikes, mostly carried out by Russian warplanes, hit at least four areas of the opposition-held east.
Hanaa Singer, the Unicef representative in Syria, said: “Nearly 2 million people in Aleppo are once again with no running water through the public network. Depriving children of water puts them at risk of catastrophic outbreaks of waterborne diseases and adds to the suffering, fear and horror that children in Aleppo live through every day.
“In the eastern part of Aleppo, the population will have to resort to highly contaminated well water. It is critical for children’s survival that all parties to the conflict stop attacks on water infrastructure, provide access to assess and repair damage to Bab al-Nayrab station, and switch the water back on at the Suleiman al-Halabi station.”
At least 25 people were killed on Saturday as the Syrian military continued its offensive on opposition-held areas in its attempt to retake control of the entire city, according to rebel sources. The death toll was expected to rise, with many victims still trapped beneath rubble.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said it had documented 47 deaths on Friday, including five children.
Residents of rebel-held eastern Aleppo said the area had been subjected to the most ferocious bombardment of the war in the latest offensive.
“Unfortunately it continues. There are planes in the sky now,” said Ammar al-Selmo, the head of the Syrian Civil Defence in the area.
The attackers appeared to be using ordnance more destructive than anything previously used against the area, and residents said many buildings had been destroyed.
They described the use of a missile that produced earthquake-like tremors upon impact and razed buildings to basement level, where many residents seek protection during bombing.
“They are using weapons that appear to be specifically for [bringing down] buildings,” a senior official in an Aleppo-based rebel faction, the Levant Front, told Reuters. “Most of the victims are under the rubble because more than half the civil defence has been forced out of service.”
The 250,000 residents left in eastern Aleppo have been under near-continuous siege since government troops encircled the area in mid-July.
Syrian government forces supported by Palestinian fighters took control of Handarat camp in a rebel-held area north of Aleppo on Saturday, the observatory said. The former Palestinian refugee camp, which overlooks one of the main roads into Aleppo, had been in rebel hands for years.
“Handarat has fallen,” an official with one of the main Aleppo rebel groups told Reuters. An army statement confirmed the advance, saying “large numbers of terrorists” had been killed.
Elsewhere, seven people were killed by a strike as they queued to buy yoghurt at a market in the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood, which sits on the frontline between the government-held west and rebel-held east of the city.
There was also major destruction in several neighbourhoods, including Al-Kalasseh and Bustan al-Qasr, where some streets were almost erased by the bombardment. Unexploded rockets lay buried in the roads in some areas, while elsewhere enormous craters had been left by the bombing, Agence France-Presse said.
The civil defence, known as the “white helmets”, was overwhelmed by the scale of the destruction, which included several of its bases.
The group said it had just two fire engines left for all of east Aleppo which, like its ambulances, were struggling to move around the city.
With no electricity or fuel for generators, the streets of Aleppo are pitch black and difficult to navigate at night, and the fuel shortage has made it hard to refill vehicles. In many places, rubble strewn across streets has rendered them impassable and has effectively sealed off neighbourhoods to traffic.
On Saturday morning the streets were nearly empty, with just a few residents out looking for bread.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said on Saturday that reviving the ceasefire in Syria depended on all sides. “One can speak about the ceasefire revival only on the collective basis,” he told Russian television.
Russia and the US agreed to a ceasefire on 9 September, but the truce effectively collapsed after a week when an aid convoy was attacked, killing about 20 people..
The Syrian army said it was targeting rebel positions in the city, and denied hitting civilians.