Volunteer first responders in Syria’s Aleppo have pulled the bodies of nine people, including four children, from the rubble following air raids Friday on a rebel-held district, while another 10 people were killed by the shelling of government-held parts of the city.
The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said helicopters dropped crude barrel bombs. The activist-operated Aleppo Media Center and the Local Coordination Committees also reported that nine were killed in the bombing. The LCC said five were wounded and rescuers continued to sift through the rubble for survivors.
The UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien described the situation in besieged rebel-held eastern Aleppo as “extremely severe.” Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and onetime commercial center, has been divided since 2012.
Speaking in Geneva with the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, O’Brien said the international body will continue to press for a 48-hour weekly humanitarian pause. Some 250,000 people are estimated to be trapped in the rebel-held eastern part of the city.
O’Brien said no aid convoys have gotten into besieged areas of Syria this month, only airdrops. Efforts to bring about a nationwide cease-fire and a return to peace talks are currently bogged down over Aleppo, which has seen months of intense fighting.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with his Russian counterpart in Geneva on Friday to discuss such a deal, in talks that have dragged over two weeks. A deal hinges on an unlikely US-Russian military partnership that would come into force if Moscow can pressure its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, to halt offensive operations. Washington would have to persuade the anti-Assad rebels it supports to end any coordination with al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria and other extremist groups.
De Mistura said if the US-Russia talks succeed it could make a “major difference.”
“We are all hoping for positive conclusions. Let’s be frank: the discussions are addressing complex, delicate, difficult issues,” said de Mistura, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday.
De Mistura reiterated the concerns over the situation in eastern Aleppo, saying the area may run out of fuel within days. “Regardless of everywhere, Aleppo is becoming an urgent issue even more than before.”
Pro-government forces have recently stepped up attacks on rebel-held Aleppo, after regaining control this week of a major artery in the city’s south, which rebel forces had taken last month.
Friday’s air raids on the city’s southern edge came after a wave of bombings, including suspected gas attacks, blamed on the government. A women and children’s hospital in eastern Aleppo was briefly shut down after it was hit in an air raid late Tuesday, making it the latest of the area’s eight hospitals to be damaged since July in the bombing campaign, Doctors Without Borders said Friday.
On the other side of the city, shelling by insurgents Friday afternoon killed 10 people. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead included four children and that 30 people were wounded. In northern Syria, a Turkish tank was struck during fighting between Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces and Islamic State militants, killing three soldiers, according to military officials. Another soldier who was wounded in the strike was evacuated, they said.
The officials provided the information on condition of anonymity in line with government rules. Seven Turkish soldiers have been killed since Turkey’s Aug. 24 incursion into northern Syria, which drove IS away from the border and is also intended to counter the advance of US-backed Kurdish forces, which Ankara views with suspicion.