At least 74 civilians, including 25 children, were killed in the 8-day-old offensive launched by Syrian opposition fighters against the western edge of the government-held part of Aleppo city, a Syrian opposition monitoring group said Saturday.
Opposition fighters launched the protracted attack on Oct. 28 on government-held Aleppo, aiming to break a months-long government-imposed siege on the eastern part of the city they control. They have since advanced on a number of neighborhoods on the city's western edge, capturing Assad district and Minian village as pro-government forces fought back to regain control.
The Syrian military said the first three days of the rebel offensive left more than 80 people killed. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the discrepancy in casualty figures.
Rights groups and the UN have sharply criticized the opposition groups for the indiscriminate shelling of western Aleppo districts that resulted in a number of civilian deaths. Such criticism has largely been reserved for the government and its allies for indiscriminate bombing of residential areas.
Prior to the rebel offensive and in less than a month, more than 400 civilians, many of them children, have been killed in bombings that also hit a school and medical facilities, and nearly 2,000 wounded in rebel-held Aleppo and surrounding areas.
The Observatory said Saturday that three civilian deaths were recorded in rebel-held Aleppo districts in the past week. Russia had declared a halt on airstrikes on the besieged part of the city since October 18. But there were reports of airstrikes on the city's edge and in rural areas.
On Friday, a renewed 10-hour Russian offer of a moratorium on airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Aleppo expired. None of the area's estimated 275,000 residents evacuated the territory, as was urged by Russian and Syrian officials. There were fears that a punishing aerial campaign would resume on the city after the expiration.
But early afternoon Saturday, there were no reports of airstrikes in the city.
However, Syrian activists reported airstrikes on western rural Aleppo province against rebel positions.
Footage from the activist-run Thiqa News Agency allegedly showed missiles targeting the town of Darat Izza in northwestern Aleppo province. A team of first responders known as the Syrian Civil Defense, or White Helmets, said at least three people were killed in the airstrikes and 15 others wounded.
There has been an intense aerial bombing campaign in the western Aleppo countryside and nearby Idlib province. Rebels said it appeared to be an attempt to sever the rebels supply lines.
An insurgent alliance, known as the Army of Conquest and which includes the al-Qaida-linked group Fatah al-Sham Front, has led the attack on western Aleppo. It is the second time insurgents have tried to break the siege imposed on the territory since July. An earlier offensive that breached the siege in August for a few weeks was repelled, and the seal on eastern Aleppo re-imposed.
Abu Saeed al-Halabi, a Dutch member of Fatah al-Sham based in Aleppo, said Russia has intensified its airstrikes during the insurgent-led offensive on Aleppo's western countryside, “the proposed end destination” for the potential evacuees from eastern Aleppo. He said that the aerial campaign has not curtailed the rebel offensive.
“This offensive will take longer than previous ones because the attacks take place in urban areas and the regime militias have a lot to lose if this siege is broken,” he told The Associated Press in a text message from Aleppo.SHOW MORE