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Nearly 250 Dead Amid Relentless Airstrikes On Syria's Aleppo

ICE Graveyard 30/04/2016 Charlotte Alfred
ATHENA IMAGE © Omar Arab/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Nearly 30 air strikes hit rebel-held areas of Syria's northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing more people in a ninth straight day of bombardments by warring sides, and a temporary "calm" declared by Syrian military took hold around Damascus and in the northwest.

The violence in Aleppo, which has borne the brunt of an escalation in fighting that has all but destroyed a ceasefire deal brokered in February by Washington and Moscow, has killed nearly 250 people since April 22, a monitoring group said.

It has also contributed to the break up of peace talks in Geneva, which the main opposition walked out of last week.

A temporary "regime of calm", or lull in fighting, announced by the Syrian army late on Friday, which Damascus said was designed to salvage the wider ceasefire deal, appeared to hold in the capital and areas in its suburbs, as well as parts of northwest coastal province Latakia. Aleppo had not been included in the plan for a lull.

At least five people were killed in Aleppo early on Saturday in the latest round of air strikes, which were believed to have been carried out by Syrian government warplanes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The British-based monitoring group put the civilian death toll in government and rebel bombardments of neighborhoods in Aleppo since April 22 at nearly 250.

This figure included around 140 people killed by government-aligned forces in air strikes and shellings of rebel-held areas, including 19 children, it said. Insurgent shelling of government-held areas killed 96 people, including 21 children.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, has been divided for years between rebel and government zones. Full control would be the most important prize for President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting to keep hold of his country throughout a five-year civil war.

'A BIT QUIETER'

Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said government-held areas of Aleppo were "a bit quieter today", but that shells fired by rebels were still intermittently hitting.

Farther southwest, "there aren't clashes in Latakia, there aren't clashes in Ghouta (Damascus suburbs)," only some lower-level violence between rival rebel groups outside Damascus, Abdulrahman said, referring to the lull in fighting announced by the army.

A resident of Western Ghouta, which is under government siege, said shellings appeared to have ceased around the capital in the hours after the start of the lull at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT on Friday).

"There has been no military activity and no sound of bombardments in nearby areas, no sound of shelling or of warplanes," the resident, Maher Abu Jaafar, told Reuters via internet messenger.

"It's the opposite of last night, when there was a lot of bombing and the sounds of rockets and shells."

Syrian helicopters later in the day dropped a number of barrel bombs southwest of Damascus but outside the area where the lull in fighting was meant to take place, the Observatory said.

Abu Jaafar said he heard several explosions in the afternoon.

A Friday statement from the Syrian army did not explain any detail what military or non-military action the "regime of calm" would entail.

It said it would last for 24 hours in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus and for 72 hours in areas of the northern Latakia countryside.

The United Nations has called on Moscow and Washington to help restore the ceasefire to prevent the complete collapse of talks aimed at ending a conflict in which more than 250,000 people have been killed and millions displaced.

Aid agencies have continued to deliver aid in the west of the country, but say that access is not regular enough and that many Syrians in need still cannot be reached.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said on Saturday fresh aid had begun to enter the towns of Zabadani and Madaya, where there were reports of starvation earlier this year due to a siege by government forces and their allies.

Trucks simultaneously entered al-Foua and Kefraya in the northwest province of Idlib, which are surrounded by insurgents.

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