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Battle for Aleppo intensifies after ceasefire ends (Update 1)

Rebel fighters in Marea city stand near rising smoke after new strikes

The battle for control of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo intensified on Sunday with air strikes, ground offensives and shelling, the morning after a resurgence in fighting ended a Russian ceasefire, a monitor and rebel groups said.

There was fierce fighting between insurgents and Syrian government and allied forces along a strategic frontline in southwest Aleppo. In August rebels briefly broke through this government-held strip of land to try to break a siege on rebel-held eastern Aleppo enacted in July.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there was heavy rebel shelling onto the government-controlled Hamdaniya district, part of this battle front.

Syrian or Russian air strikes hit a number of rebel-held areas just west of Aleppo city from dawn on Sunday. Air raids also hit north of Aleppo and deeper into west Aleppo countryside, the Observatory said.

Aleppo has been a major battleground in the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by the Russian military, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and an array of Shi’ite Muslim militias, wants to take full control of the city.

Russia had declared a unilateral ceasefire from Thursday which was rejected by rebels, lasted three days and did not result in hoped-for medical evacuations from the city or aid deliveries.

Air strikes within the city stopped for three days, but resumed late on Saturday as the third day of the truce expired.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel alliance, which has said it is preparing for a big attack to break the siege of eastern Aleppo, warned residents in and around the city to stay away from Syrian government military buildings for their own safety in a statement on Saturday.

FSA rebel groups said in statements they had repelled various offensives by government and allied forces along the frontline separating rebel- from government-held Aleppo city late on Saturday.

Aleppo was Syria’s most populous city before the war, but is now divided into government- and rebel-held areas. Intense bombardment has reduced the rebel-held east of the city to ruins.

Rebels did not accept the ceasefire, which they say does nothing to alleviate the situation of those who choose to remain in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, and believe it is part of a government policy to purge cities of political opponents.

The Syrian army and Russia had called on residents and rebels in eastern Aleppo to leave through designated corridors and depart for other insurgent-held districts under a promise of safe travel, but very few rebels or civilians appeared to have left.

“Nobody has left through the corridors. The small number of people which who tried to leave were faced with shelling around the (corridor area) and could not leave,” said Zakaria Malahifji, a rebel official with the Fastaqim group, which is present in the city.

Syrian state media says rebels have been preventing civilians from leaving east Aleppo. Pro-government channels broadcast footage of ambulances and green buses parked at empty reception points in government-held Aleppo, said to be waiting for civilians and fighters from the city’s east.

Besieged east Aleppo has not received United Nations assistance since early July and rebel groups have said they are preparing an attack to try to break through the government siege.

The United Nations had hoped that the ceasefires would allow medical evacuations and aid deliveries, but said a lack of security guarantees had prevented aid workers from taking advantage of the pause in bombing.

“The U.N. remains hopeful that parties will provide all necessary guarantees and is actively working to that end,” U.N. humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said. He said humanitarian workers were ready to proceed as soon as conditions allowed.

Sporadic clashes between insurgents and Syrian government and allied forces had been reported earlier on Saturday along frontlines, with some shells falling on both the government-held western side of the city and the rebel-held east, the Observatory said.

Aleppo has been a major battleground in the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by the Russian military, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and an array of Shi’ite Muslim militias, wants to take full control of the city.

Syrian and Russian forces say they are targeting fighters linked to al-Qaeda from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, in eastern Aleppo. Insurgents say Syria and Russia are indiscriminately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure to take over rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Diplomatic negotiations between Russia and the United States have in recent weeks focussed on whether there is a way to separate al Qaeda-linked fighters in eastern Aleppo from more moderate rebels, thereby depriving Syrian and Russian forces of their main targets.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday Russia remains committed to removing what it calls terrorist organisations from Syria and preventing the disintegration of the country.

“We need to liberate and do everything possible to prevent the division of the country,” Peskov said in a television interview, adding that he did not see an end to the Syria conflict in the foreseeable future.

Asked if further extensions of the Aleppo pause were under discussion, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by RIA news agency earlier on Saturday as saying it depends on the actions of other parties.



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