October 12, 2016 - 11:04 AM
BEIRUT - An airstrike hit the biggest market on the rebel-held side of Syria's Aleppo on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people and levelling buildings as rescuers were still sifting through the rubble from air raids that killed dozens the day before.
Activists and a witness said the early afternoon strike destroyed several shops in the besieged eastern part of the city, which has been the target of a Russian-backed Syrian offensive since the collapse of a cease-fire last month.
The latest strikes have shattered a relative three-day lull in the area, where hospitals, underground shelters and buildings had been targeted for weeks.
On Tuesday, Russian or Syrian aircraft bombed several neighbourhoods, killing at least 41 people, including five children, according to the Syrian Civil Defence, a group of volunteer first responders, and the activist-run Aleppo Media Center. Both groups said 15 people were killed in Wednesday's strike.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of contacts in Syria, gave lower tolls for the attacks but said they were likely to rise. Varying reports of casualties are common in the chaotic aftermath of attacks in Syria.
Dr. Farida, a gynecologist whose clinic is in the market, said it was not clear what the aircraft were targeting.
"Many stores totally disappeared. I can't find a trace of a mini-market I used to buy things from," she said, asking that her last name not be published because of security concerns. She said at least five buildings have been destroyed.
"The destruction is horrible," she said. "The rubble has piled up and the roads are cut."
The Observatory said Wednesday that at least 358 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo since a U.S. and Russian-brokered truce collapsed on Sept. 19. The U.N. says over 100 children have been killed in the campaign, which has also included a limited ground offensive.
Syria Civil Defence workers pulled at least one boy alive from under the rubble Tuesday, amid cheers from onlookers. The 13-year-old boy, Jamil Habboush, emerged covered in dust and dazed from the flattened building, gripping his rescuer tightly.
His mother survived but remains in critical condition, said Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence, which is also known as the White Helmets. The boy had lost his father and brother in previous bombings, according to al-Haj.
The U.N. Security Council is deadlocked over how to respond to the Aleppo crisis and the U.S. and Russia have failed to reach an agreement on renewing the short-lived cease-fire.
Russia said Wednesday, however, that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Switzerland to discuss efforts to find a peace deal in Syria. The encounter would be the first face-to-face contact between the two men since Washington broke off bilateral diplomatic contact with Moscow on Syria over the violence in Aleppo earlier this month.
A statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov and Kerry will meet in the Swiss city of Lausanne Saturday.
The State Department said Kerry would meet with "key regional partners" in Lausanne to discuss ways to resolve the Syria crisis, without specifying who they were. It said Kerry would discuss a "multilateral approach" to ending the crisis, "including a sustained cessation of violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries."
A spokeswoman for Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. envoy to Syria, said he was invited, without commenting further.
International aid groups and U.N. agencies have appealed for a halt to the violence to allow aid into the besieged territory. No assistance has entered Aleppo since July, while hospitals, medical facilities and rescue vehicles have all come under attack.
The fighting in Aleppo has somewhat eclipsed violence across other parts of Syria.
Syrian forces on Wednesday pounded the opposition-held eastern suburbs of Damascus known as Ghouta, including a series of airstrikes on Saqba, Arbeen and Kfarbatna. The Observatory reported that one person was killed and three wounded in Kfarbatna, while 10 were wounded in Saqba. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition media collective, also reported the airstrikes, saying they resulted in a number of casualties.
State-run news agency SANA reported that mortar shells fired Wednesday by rebels on residential areas in the capital wounded a child and damaged public and private property. On Tuesday, 30 people were wounded by rocket and mortar rounds that slammed into residential neighbourhoods in Damascus.
SANA also said five people were killed and 13 wounded Wednesday by mortar shells fired by "terrorist groups" on several neighbourhoods in Aleppo.
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016