Warplanes mounted a new wave of heavy air strikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo on Saturday pressing on with a major offensive by the Russian-backed Syrian military to take back the entire city.
The attacks came as a United Nations official said nearly two million people in Aleppo are without running water as security conditions deteriorate.
AL JAZEERA’S AMR HALABI IN ALEPPO CITY:
Syrian and Russian air raids are ongoing against Aleppo city.
Air strikes and all different kinds of rockets have hit different districts, leaving dozens of people injured and killed.
Russian planes dropped cluster bombs on a market in al-Sakhor district, killing a whole family and destroying the market, a bakery and residential building.
The civil defence teams say 15 people have been killed and dozens injured so far, and they’re still looking for people under the rubble.
The field hospitals, which were already full, are trying as hard as possible to treat the injured.
I’m at a hospital and can see that they’re not fully equipped to treat all the people who’ve been hurt.
Syrian government forces, meanwhile, seized ground from rebels north of Aleppo.
The capture of the Handarat camp marked the first major ground advance by the government in an offensive that rebels say has unleashed unprecedented firepower against their half of the city.
The captured area – elevated ground overlooking 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 confirming the advance said “large numbers of terrorists” had been killed.
Residents of rebel-held eastern Aleppo say it has been subjected to the most ferocious bombardment of the war since the government declared a new offensive that has killed dozens of people in the last three days.
Sources told Al Jazeera on Saturday that at least 91 people had been killed in the past 24 hours.
“The raids are intense and continuous,” Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that reports on the war, said.
Rebels said air strikes on Saturday morning hit at least four areas of the opposition-held east, home to more than 250,000 people. The attack has drawn on ordinance more destructive than anything previously used against the area, and many buildings have been entirely destroyed, residents say.
“They are using weapons that appear to be specifically for [bringing down] buildings,” said a senior official in an Aleppo-based rebel faction, the Levant Front. “Most of the victims are under the rubble because more than half the civil defence has been forced out of service.”
The Syrian army said it is targeting rebel positions in the city and denied hitting civilians.
Water sources cut
Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria, said intense attacks damaged the Bab al-Nairab water pumping station that supplies some 250,000 people in rebel-held eastern parts of the contested city with water.
Singer said in retaliation, the Suleiman al-Halabi pumping station, also located in the rebel-held east, was switched off – cutting water to 1.5 million people in government-held western parts of the city.
“Depriving children of water puts them at risk of catastrophic outbreaks of water-borne diseases,” Singer warned in her statement released late Friday.
Residents say more than 150 air strikes have been launched, crushing emergency service structures, as well as underground shelters used by civilians to hide from bombings.
At least 30 neighbourhoods were targeted, Al Jazeera’s Amr al-Halabi said, reporting from Aleppo. He added the relentless strikes hampered the ability of rescue workers to help civilians caught up in the fighting.
Three centres for a volunteer rescue group known as the White Helmets were also hit.
“We have four centres in eastern Aleppo. The aircraft targeted three centres. Two of them are now out of service,” Abdul Rahman al-Hassani of the White Helmets told Al Jazeera.
He added that five vehicles belonging to the group were destroyed, including an ambulance.
“Our centres were the direct target [of the strikes],” Hassani said.
“We feel the earth trembling and shaking under our feet. Aleppo is burning,” said Bahaa al-Halabi, an activist from a besieged rebel-held district.
The Syrian military, which is backed by the Russian air force, said it was starting a new operation against the rebel-held east.
The Syrian defence ministry has called on residents to move to government-held areas, adding there would be “no detention, or inquiry to any citizen” who reached the checkpoints that divide the city.
A high-ranking military source confirmed the intense bombardment was in preparation for a ground assault.
“We have begun reconnaissance, aerial and artillery bombardment,” he told the AFP news agency, adding the strikes could “go on for days” before the ground operation starts.
Aleppo was once Syria’s commercial and industrial hub but has been ravaged by fighting and roughly divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since mid-2012.
The announcement of the new Syrian army offensive on Thursday came as international powers failed to revive a collapsed ceasefire during diplomatic talks in New York.