NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has condemned the bombardment of opposition-held parts of eastern Aleppo as “a blatant violation of international law" in a press statement on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in Bratislava, Stoltenberg called the attacks by Russian and Syrian regime warplanes "morally totally unacceptable," while urging Moscow to “show credible efforts” to restore a failed ceasefire.
His comments come as Bashar al Assad’s regime forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, prepare to launch a major ground offensive to seize eastern Aleppo. Western powers have already slammed Russia over the violence, with the United States accusing Moscow of "barbarism" and Britain and France alleging war crimes. Russia called that rhetoric "unacceptable".
Around 300,000 besieged civilians are believed to still be in eastern Aleppo, where food and vital medical supplies are running short.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured since regime forces intensified efforts to take complete control over the country’s largest city and former commercial hub.
— Olivia Alabaster (@OliviaAlabaster) September 27, 2016
The hashtag #HolocaustAleppo has been trending on social media as activists and aid agencies call for an immediate halt to airstrikes to allow supplies to reach civilians and so that the wounded can be evacuated.
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) September 27, 2016
In a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Fadela Chaib called for the "immediate establishment of humanitarian routes” to be opened to eastern Aleppo.
Having been under the control of opposition forces throughout most of Syria’s five-and-a-half-year civil war, eastern Aleppo has endured endless airstrikes and barrel bombings, leaving much of its infrastructure in ruins.
Only seven hospitals, some only partially operational, are still standing the city’s opposition-held districts, where only around 30 doctors remain.
Dr. Abd Arrahman Alomar of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), meanwhile, told reporters at the briefing that the city only has enough fuel to keep hospital generators running for another 20 days.
"We go into mountains, we work underground, and even our facilities underground and into the mountains were targeted many times, many times," Alomar said. "If this continues, we are going to the point of zero where there are no facilities to be protected, where there is no health staff to be protected."
Alomar said staff on the ground are waiting for permission to evacuate the injured safely to hospitals in the opposition-controlled Idlib province or across the border to Turkey.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, regime forces advanced towards the Old City of Aleppo on Tuesday. Local reports also claimed that the regime had seized territories near the ancient citadel in the Suweiqa area, where clashes took place.
Opposition forces, however, were able to reverse an assault on the Handarat camp north of Aleppo, at the nearby Kindi Hospital area, in the Rashidin district.
Free Syrian Army officials tell me they're confident they can hold eastern Aleppo, noting they reversed regime advance in Handarat camp.
— Jared Malsin (@jmalsin) September 27, 2016
SAMS documents show that almost 300 people have been killed in the attacks on Aleppo in the past three days, but others put the death toll much higher.
Civil defense: 387 people killed in these air raids on Aleppo - 106 children, 78 women
Over 1,700 injured, meaning death toll could go up!
— هادي العبدالله Hadi (@HadiAlabdallah) September 27, 2016
A ceasefire brokered by Russia and the US between the Moscow-backed regime and Washington-backed opposition groups collapsed last week, with little hope remaining for a political solution to the war.
Over 400,000 people have been killed in the war since it started in 2011, according to some estimates. The war has also displaced around half of the country’s population, triggering the worst refugee crisis seen since World War II.