At least 96 children have been killed and 223 injured in eastern Aleppo in the past week, UNICEF said Thursday, with some left to die on the floor of hospitals due to lack of medical supplies. Syrian and Russian forces have been bombarding rebel-held areas of the city for five straight days in what has been described as the most intense bombing campaign to hit the city since the war in Syria started six years ago.
"The children of Aleppo are trapped in a living nightmare," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said in the wake of two hospitals being hit with airstrikes and artillery fire. "There are no words left to describe the suffering they are experiencing."
According to one of just 30 doctors left working on the ground in eastern Aleppo speaking to UNICEF, the crumbling health system is so dire that "children with low chances of survival are too often left to die due to limited capacity and supplies."
"Nothing can justify such assaults on children and such total disregard for human life," Forsyth said. "The suffering — and the shock among children — is definitely the worst we have seen."
Despite the harrowing images and statistics emerging from Aleppo, the Russian government on Thursday said it had no intention of grounding its warplanes and will continue to support the Syrian government in what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called a "war on terror."
At the same time, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said the Kremlin would support a two-day ceasefire in Aleppo to allow aid to reach the 250,000 people cut off from supplies.
"In order to ensure humanitarian access, we have repeatedly offered a 48-hour pause, but American counterparts, for reasons known only to them, but not to us, are totally fixated on the requirements of the seven-day pause," Ryabkov said Thursday, according to Russian news agency Interfax. "A seven-day break is a sufficient period to ensure that terrorist groups can carry out activities to rearm, rest, and regroup."
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has worked to try to maintian the fragile ceasefire brokered with Russia on Sept. 9. Peskov called Kerry's statement about downing warplanes as "clumsy and unhelpful," according to Reuters, calling on the U.S. and its allies to fulfill their pledge to separate moderate Syrian opposition forces from "terrorists."
According to sources speaking to Middle East Eye, confirming an earlier Reuters report, the U.S. is now willing to ease restrictions and allow Qatar and Saudi Arabia to arm rebels with shoulder-held, anti-aircraft missiles to ensure that Aleppo does not fall under the control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
"The U.S. won't let Aleppo fall. We can expect to see Syrian helicopters falling from the sky within weeks."
In the latest round of attacks, on Thursday morning between 5 and 6 a.m. local time, Syrian government warplanes hit two bakeries in the outskirts of Aleppo that had supplied more than 70,000 people with bread each day. These attacks come a day after up to 20 people were reportedly killed while queueing at a bakery in the Al-Muadi district of eastern Aleppo, close to the M2 hospital, which was also hit along with another of the few remaining hospitals.
For the past week, Russian and Syrian warplanes have bombarded rebel-held eastern Aleppo, backed by ground forces of Iranian troops. An estimated 250,000 people are cut off from supplies and aid in that part of the city, and with hospitals and bakeries being targeted by the al-Assad regime, the situation is likely to get worse for those in Aleppo.