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Aleppo siege: Civilians hide in basements as bombs rain down

Thousands seek shelter underground as government and Russian forces pound rebel-held eastern areas with air strikes and artillery fire
Syrian boys cry following Russian air strikes on the neighbourhood of Fardous in Aleppo (AFP)

Syrian aircraft and artillery pounded rebel-held areas of Aleppo early Friday as Damascus and its ally Moscow intensified a renewed offensive against the rebels.

It was the fourth straight day of bombing since Russia declared an end to a month-long humanitarian pause on Tuesday.

Many of the more than 250,000 civilians living under siege in the rebel-held east of Syria's second city spent the night in basements and bomb shelters after one of the most intense bombardments of the renewed offensive.

'It is shocking that healthcare facilities continue to be attacked in Syria'
- WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic

Barrel bombs and other ordnance rained down until midnight, only to resume in the early hours, an AFP correspondent reported.

The bombardment came as government troops pressed an assault on the southern neighbourhood of Sheikh Said, which they briefly entered before being pushed back by rebel fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Speaking via WhatsApp, MEE contributor Zouhir Al-Shimale said that living in east Aleppo "felt like hell" after days of continuous bombardment.

Al-Shimale also told MEE that the bombing had not stopped since the morning.

Medics treat an injured child after air strikes on rebel held areas of Aleppo on Friday (Reuters)

Witnesses described the artillery assault as the heaviest they had experienced in Aleppo in years of war.  

"I have never heard such intense artillery bombardments," said Najib Fakhoury, head of the White Helmets volunteer rescue group in the rebel-held Ansari district.

"Earlier, we received a call for help to extinguish a fire," he said. "But we cannot go because the shells are falling on the streets".

Reports: Medical facilities targeted

Unconfirmed reports have also emerged of hospitals and medical facilities being targeted by Syrian government and Russian warplanes overnight. 

However, activists have refused to name the facilities, despite using codes to denote hospitals in east Aleppo, as they feared further retaliation from forces loyal to the Syrian government. 

The World Health Organisation earlier this week condemned attacks against hospital and medical facilities.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: "It is shocking that healthcare facilities continue to be attacked in Syria. Only this year there were 126 attacks on health facilities and health workers recorded by the World Health Organisation and partners."

He also added: "We call on all parties to stop targeting health workers and hospitals because this is outrageous, and this deprives (the) civilian population from access to basic health services."

Russia confirmed on Thursday that it had deployed cruise missiles to target "jihadist groups in Syria".

It said Thursday's strikes targeted the Islamic State (IS) group and former al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, but it did not specify where they had been carried out.

Aleppo province is mostly controlled by a rebel alliance known as the Army of Conquest, which groups rebel factions with Islamic militants of the Fateh al-Sham Front.

Rebels hit back

The rebels responded by firing more than a dozen rockets into government-held areas of the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added. Three civilians including two children were killed in western Aleppo, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.

At least 65 civilians have been killed since the offensive resumed on Tuesday, the Observatory said.

No aid has entered the city's eastern neighbourhoods since government troops surrounded them in mid-July, and humanitarian organisations said this week food aid stockpiled there had all but run out.

Once Syria's main commercial and industrial hub, Aleppo has been devastated by fighting since the rebels overran the east of the city in 2012.

The 1.2 million civilians living in government-held areas have come under repeated rocket fire from the rebels.

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