Despite carnage, Syria's Aleppo not in fighting 'freeze'

ALEPPO, Syria – Regime aircraft pounded rebel areas of Syria's second city Aleppo, which was left out of a deal to "freeze" fighting from Saturday, April 30, despite international outrage over renewed violence.

Shelling and air raids in Aleppo over the past week have killed more than 230 civilians and pushed a landmark February 27 ceasefire to the verge of collapse.

On Friday, April 29, crude barrel bombs smashed into residential neighborhoods as rescue workers scrambled to cope with the casualties.

Near the eastern rebel-held Fardos district, the civil defense, known as the White Helmets, pulled bloodied bodies caked in dust from a building that had been hit.

An Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent saw a distraught man cradling his wounded daughter, who appeared to be about 10 years old, in an ambulance.

"My daughter! Oh God, my daughter, please someone get in and drive!" he screamed.

After a rescue worker jumped into the driver's seat, the young girl whimpered: "I'm going to die... I'm going to die."

Some onlookers helped rescue workers remove rubble as others stared at the sky waiting for the next strike.

Bombardment of the city killed 17 people in rebel-held districts and 13 people in the government-controlled western neighborhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"The earth is shaking beneath our feet," one resident of the densely populated Bustan al-Qasr area told AFP.

An air raid also hit a local clinic in rebel-held Al-Maja neighborhood, wounding several people, including a nurse, the White Helmets said.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported a clinic was "totally destroyed" but without casualties. It was not clear if it was the same facility.

'No justification'

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, a total of 4 medical facilities were hit in Aleppo Friday on both sides of the front line.

"There can be no justification for these appalling acts of violence deliberately targeting hospitals and clinics," said Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC in Syria.

"People keep dying in these attacks. There is no safe place anymore in Aleppo. Even in hospitals," she said.

It was the second time this week that an air strike hit one of the few medical facilities still operating in rebel areas.

A raid Wednesday, April 27, hit Al-Quds hospital and nearby flats, killing 30 people in an attack UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned as "inexcusable".

Doctor Mohammad Wassim Maaz, known as the most qualified pediatrician in eastern Aleppo, was among the dead at the hospital, which was supported by MSF and the ICRC.

Despite the carnage, Aleppo has been excluded from a fresh "freeze" in fighting brokered by the United States and Russia.

Syria's armed forces said that it would begin at 1:00 am Saturday (2200 GMT Friday) and last for 24 hours in Damascus and the nearby rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, and 72 hours in the coastal Latakia province.

A monitor said fighters had laid down their arms on both fronts.

"It's quiet in Latakia and in Eastern Ghouta. There is no shelling at the moment," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Regime 'massacres'

US special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney said the agreement was a "general recommitment" to the original truce, "not a new set of local ceasefires".

A Syrian security source said the deal was brokered by the US and Russia, but that Moscow had refused a request by Washington to include Aleppo.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss "keeping and reinforcing" the broader ceasefire, Russia's foreign ministry said.

"We want to focus on strengthening the cessation of hostilities, renewing it, reaffirming it, so that we can quell the fighting or the violations," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

The High Negotiations Committee – Syria's main opposition body – condemned the growing violence in Aleppo in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The HNC walked out of UN-backed peace talks in Geneva earlier this month in frustration at the increasing bloodshed. (READ: 'Revitalize' Syria ceasefire before peace talks resume – UN envoy)

"It's not an appropriate time to talk about a political process in the wake of the horrific massacres and the systematic violations of the truce, which has no real presence on the ground," tweeted HNC head Riad Hijab.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Friday slammed world powers backing opposing sides in Syria, saying the renewed violence showed a "monstrous disregard for civilian lives".

In a government-held neighborhood in western Syria, Nour Shmeilan, an Orthodox Christian, said she was too afraid to attend Good Friday church services.

"We've packed all our things in a single suitcase and are ready to flee at any moment," she told AFP.

Once Syria's economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by fighting since 2012 when rebels seized the city's east, confining government forces to the west.

Since the conflict in Syria erupted in 2011, more than 270,000 people have been killed and millions more been forced from their homes. – Karam al-Masri, AFP/