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Aleppo on brink of starving and overwhelmed by shelling: Aid groups

UN calls for 48-hour ceasefire to deliver aid, as Red Cross warns shelling and air strikes have caused 'untold' numbers of civilian casualties
A civil defence worker carries a baby from the rubble of a reported government strike in Aleppo on Thursday (AFP)

Aleppo is on the brink of starvation overwhelmed by shelling and air strikes that have caused “untold" civilian casualties, aid and UN groups said on Friday.

The warning came amid fierce fighting in the northern Syrian city, where rebels from the Thuwar al-Sham group on Thursday claimed to have detonated an underground tunnel, killing at least 38 pro-government soldiers. 

Aid access to the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo has been cut off since 7 July, when forces allied to President Bashar al-Assad took control of the last route into the area.

The UN on Thursday issued a plea for a 48-hour truce in the city, saying it was “on the brink of starvation”.

"Humanitarian convoys are ready, humanitarian workers are ready. We have the supplies. We need a break in the fighting," said Jan Egeland, head of the UN-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria, after the weekly meeting of the group, co-chaired by Russia and the US.  

Egeland urged both powers to pressure their allies to "give us 48 hours every week to be able to go to eastern Aleppo".

"The clock is ticking," he said, and described people in Syria's second city as being "on the brink of starvation".

The Red Cross joined a chorus of voices warning of the dire situation in Aleppo on Friday, saying indiscriminate shelling was causing “untold numbers” of civilian casualties.

Attacks in recent days have destroyed water systems, hospitals, warehouses, ambulance stations, public buildings and civilian homes, while patients and medical workers have been killed or injured, the aid agency said in a statement.

“The situation is devastating and overwhelming,” said Marianne Gasser, a senior Red Cross official currently working inside Aleppo.

“We hear that dozens of civilians are being killed every day and scores more injured from shells, mortars and rockets.

“The bombing is constant. The violence is threatening hundreds of thousands of people's lives, homes and livelihoods,” she added. 

In the nearby city of Idlib, some 60km southwest of Aleppo, there were reports of an intensive campaign of air strikes launched by Russian fighter jets.

Muslim al-Sayyid Ali, a correspondent for pro-opposition news site Orient, said Russian jets had launched up to 20 separate strikes on Friday morning.

Local civil defence units in Idlib published a video claiming to show workers rescuing a family of five, including young children, from their home after it was shelled in the early hours of Friday morning.

Local religious officials in Idlib said Friday prayers would be cancelled throughout the city due to the risk that large gatherings could be hit by strikes.

A nationwide ceasefire announced in February - which excluded groups like Islamic State and al-Nusra Front - was subject to constant reports of violations, is considered to have broken down completely in April. 

Since then UN officials and negotiators for parties in the conflict have been unable to agree a new deal that would see a let-up in the fighting.

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