Syrian-Russian aircraft drop barrel bombs on largest opposition-held hospital in Aleppo

Syrians carry the body of a man who was killed in reported rebel mortar shelling on Aleppo's al-Midan neighbourhood as they arrive at a hospital in the government-held side of the northern city on September 30, 2016. Syrian regime forces advanced in the battleground city of Aleppo, backed by a Russian air campaign that a monitor said has killed over 3,800 civilians in the past year. / AFP / GEORGES OURFALIAN
Syrians carry the body of a man who was killed in reported rebel mortar shelling on Aleppo’s al-Midan neighbourhood as they arrive at a hospital in the government-held side of the northern city on September 30, 2016.
Syrian regime forces advanced in the battleground city of Aleppo, backed by a Russian air campaign that a monitor said has killed over 3,800 civilians in the past year. / AFP / GEORGES OURFALIAN

The largest hospital in rebel-held east Aleppo was bombed on Saturday for the second time in days as Syrian government forces pressed a Russian-backed offensive to retake the entire city.

Aleppo, once Syria’s vibrant commercial powerhouse, is now at the heart of a major military campaign by President Bashar al-Assad’s fighters and his steadfast ally Moscow.

The offensive, announced on September 22, has seen dozens of civilians killed and residential buildings flattened in the east, where an estimated 250,000 people live under government siege.

As the situation for civilians grows increasingly dire, the biggest hospital in the rebel-held half of the city was hit by two barrel bombs on Saturday, the medical organisation that supports it said.

“Two barrel bombs hit the M10 hospital and there were reports of a cluster bomb as well,” said Adham Sahloul of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).

Sahloul said a small group of patients and doctors “were inside the hospital for basic triage, bandaging, and cleaning services for emergency cases” when the bombardment began and remain trapped there.

SAMS radiologist and hospital administrator Mohammad Abu Rajab made an urgent call for help on Saturday morning from inside M10.

“The hospital is being destroyed! SOS, everyone!” he said in an audio message distributed to journalists.

M10 had already been hit on Wednesday along with the second-largest hospital in the area, known as M2, in what UN chief Ban Ki-moon denounced as “war crimes.”

That bombardment heavily damaged the two facilities and left only six fully-functional hospitals in the city’s east, according to SAMS.

The World Health Organization has called Syria the most dangerous place in the world for health workers, and Aleppo in particular has seen much of its medical infrastructure destroyed or heavily damaged.

Since fighting first broke out there in 2012, Aleppo has been divided by a front line between rebel forces in the east and government troops in the west.

There have been mounting civilian casualties on both sides of the city.

More than 220 people have been killed by bombardment on Aleppo’s east since the government launched its offensive to seize the whole city on September 22, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday.

Six children were among 20 civilians killed in the rebel-held sector on Friday, the British-based monitor said.

In west Aleppo, rebel rocket fire killed 15 civilians and wounded 40 on Friday, state television reported.

The assault has seen government forces seize territory in both the Suleiman al-Halabi neighbourhood in the city centre, as well on the northern edges of Aleppo.

On Saturday, regime loyalists backed by heavy raids advanced on the edges of the Bustan al-Basha neighbourhood in Aleppo’s north, the Observatory said.

An AFP correspondent in the rebel-held eastern districts said clashes and the loud booms of shelling could be heard around the Suleiman al-Halabi and Bustan al-Basha fronts throughout the night.

Residents of regime-held areas expressed relief that the rebels were being pushed back but said they feared retaliation.

“We were happy when we heard about the army’s advance,” said Majed Abboud, a 32-year-old car dealer.

“But I’m afraid that with these ferocious clashes, there will be some kind of reaction from the armed groups,” he said.

The battle for Aleppo has sparked some of the most brutal violence since the March 2011 beginning of Syria’s conflict, which has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced over half the population.

The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical charity has warned that the recent bombardment was provoking a “bloodbath” in the city.

“Bombs are raining from Syria-led coalition planes and the whole of east Aleppo has become a giant kill box,” MSF director of operations Xisco Villalonga said in a statement Friday.

But diplomatic efforts to put an end to the fighting across the country have all but collapsed as tensions continue to rise between key outside players.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday accused Washington of protecting the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, once known as Al-Nusra Front, in its effort to overthrow Assad.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia was in danger of becoming “a pariah nation” and the attacks in Aleppo were “unquestionably a war crime”.

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