Missiles slammed into the biggest market in rebel-held Aleppo on Wednesday, killing at least 22 people and leveling buildings, as rescuers sifted through rubble from air raids that killed dozens the day before.
The latest wave of attacks came as Russia announced it would hold Syria ceasefire talks with the United States and regional powers this weekend – the first meeting since Washington froze bilateral negotiations after an intensified onslaught was launched on the city.
Witnesses said the early afternoon strikes destroyed several shops in the besieged eastern part of Aleppo, which has been the target of a massive Russian-backed Syrian offensive since the collapse of a cease-fire last month.
“Five air strikes hit a market in the Fardous area. So far we have recorded 22 dead and 45 injured,” Ibrahim Abu Leith, spokesman for the Syria Civil Defence in Aleppo, told Al Jazeera.
Also known as the White Helmets, the volunteer rescue group operates in rebel-held areas across Syria.
The latest strikes have shattered a relative 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 White Helmets.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of contacts in Syria, gave a lower death toll but said it was 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trace of a mini-market I used to buy things from,” she told The Associated Press news agency, asking that her last name not be published because of security concerns.
“The destruction is horrible,” she said. “The rubble has piled up and the roads are cut.”
The Syrian Observatory said on Wednesday at least 358 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo since a US and Russian-brokered truce collapsed on September 19. The UN says more than 100 children have been killed in the campaign, which has also included a limited ground offensive.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed to hold talks aimed at “creating the conditions for the resolution of the Syrian crisis” in Lausanne, Switzerand on Saturday, alongside top diplomats from “key countries in the region”.
In an interview with a US broadcaster, Lavrov said the talks would include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and possibly Qatar.
“We would like to have a meeting in this narrow format, to have a businesslike discussion, not another General Assembly-like debate,” he said.
A US State Department source confirmed the meeting to AFP news agency.
The discussions come as tensions between Moscow and the West have spiked over the five-year Syrian conflict, after peace efforts unravelled and the intense bombing campaign was unleashed on war-ravaged Aleppo.
“Obviously the missing components are the opposition … or anyone representing the government in Damascus,” Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands reported from Moscow. “The opposition will most likely decry this as a great power powwow and won’t approve.”
International aid groups and UN agencies have appealed for a halt to the violence to allow relief supplies in. No assistance has entered Aleppo since July, while hospitals and rescue vehicles have all come under attack.
Over the weekend, Russia blocked a UN Security Council resolution proposed by France and Spain on ending the hostilities in the war-torn country, blaming Paris for the refusal to discuss a compromise version.
Russia’s veto prompted French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to call on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Russia for possible war crimes in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said his diplomats had made it clear they wanted the resolution amended, and the only reason for France to push it through was “to exacerbate the situation and whip up an anti-Russia hysteria”.
Western governments said the veto showed Moscow had no interest in halting the violence.
Source: Al Jazeera News And Agencies