The French foreign minister has condemned Syrian government air raids on the besieged eastern part of Syria’s Aleppo and called for the revival of talks aimed at ending the war.
Jean-Marc Ayrault’s comments to Al Jazeera came after he met representatives of the opposition Syrian High Negotiations Committee in Qatar’s capital Doha on Sunday.
“Today’s war is all out war. I condemn this in the name of France. I will take the initiative to bring together those who share the same vision for Syria’s future in the coming hours and days,” he said.
“You can’t stand there and wait for Aleppo to fall. Because it is not only Aleppo at stake. It is all of Syria – the ‘useful’ Syria as they say. If negotiations fail, those who will be defeated will radicalise, to join those we are fighting elsewhere like ISIL and al-Nusra.”
He was referring to the the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group, which was formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
The city of Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial centre, has been divided since 2012, with the eastern half largely in rebel hands and the western half largely controlled by government forces.
More than 250,000 civilians are still trapped in the east, which is under near constant aerial bombardment, with dwindling food supplies and extremely limited medical care.
A barrel bomb killed a family of six in the divided city’s rebel-held east early on Sunday and rebel shelling killed eight children at a school in the government-held west, almost a week into one of the heaviest government bombardments in Syria’s civil war.
Damascus launched a renewed assault on eastern Aleppo on Tuesday in a bid to seize full control of the city, a key battleground in the war well into its fifth year.
Two medics said that the al-Baytounji family had suffocated to death because the barrel bomb, which fell in the Sakhour district at about midnight, had been laced with chlorine gas.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through a network of informants across the country, confirmed the bombing but could not confirm that chlorine gas was used.
Damascus has denied use of the gas, which would contravene the international Chemical Weapons Convention.
Rebel shelling killed at least eight children, aged from six to 12 years, among 10 deaths in the Saria Hasoun school in al-Furqan district, the Observatory and Syrian state television reported.
The plight of civilians in eastern Aleppo was underscored on Saturday when the World Health Organization reported that bombing had put all the hospitals in the besieged district out of operation. An official with a rebel group based in east Aleppo said there were still no working hospitals there on Sunday.
The army and its allies began some ground attacks on Friday. The Observatory reported intense clashes in Sheikh Saeed, in southeast Aleppom and in Baeedain and Bustan al-Basha, in northeast Aleppo.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, one of the army’s main allies in the fighting, said on Sunday that clashes were taking place in the Hanano district, of northeast Aleppo, and that pro-government forces were bringing large numbers of reinforcements to the city.
Air strikes continued to hit several districts of eastern Aleppo early on Sunday, the Observatory said, after at least 54 people were killed in bombing on Saturday.
So far, around 240 people have been killed in bombing in eastern Aleppo and the rebel-held countryside to the west of the city since Tuesday, it added.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s peace envoy for Syria, arrived in Damascus on Sunday for talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. International concern has grown over the renewed assault, which has forced the closure of hospitals and schools, destroyed rescue worker facilities, and left residents cowering in their homes.