Fierce Violence Breaks Cease-fire in Syria's Aleppo After Restive Calm

Air strikes follow Russia's three-day unilateral halt to hostilities in war-torn Syrian city, as Kremlin says calls for Assad's removal 'thoughtless.'

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Smoke rises from reported opposition fire from buildings in an eastern government-held neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on October 20, 2016.
Smoke rises from reported opposition fire from buildings in an eastern government-held neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on October 20, 2016.Credit: George Ourfalian, AFP

Fierce fighting and air strikes broke the third day of a unilateral Russian cease-fire in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The first Syrian or Russian air strikes on Aleppo, Syria's most populous city before the war, since Russia began the pause in hostilities on Thursday hit a key front line in the city's southwest.

Ground clashes and shelling, which had continued throughout the day on front lines between government-held and insurgent-held parts of the divided city, intensified.

Politics as usual

Rebel fighters in Marea city shoot a weapon towards Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) controlled Tell Rifaat town, northern Aleppo province, Syria October 21, 2016.Credit: Khalil Ashawi, Reuters

The entire territory of Syria must be "liberated," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said in remarks televised Saturday, dismissing demands for Syrian President Bashar Assad's departure as "thoughtless."

The Russian statement came as intense clashes were reported in northern Syria between Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters with Kurdish-led forces. The Syrian army command condemned the fresh offensive by Turkish troops inside Syria, describing it as "an occupation that will be dealt with by all available means."

The Turkish military intervened in the Syrian war in August this year under orders from Ankara to clear the border area of Islamic State fighters and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces linked to Turkey's own outlawed Kurdish insurgency. The Turkish government considers both to be terrorist groups.

Russia's Dmitry Peskov said Assad needs to stay in power to prevent the country from falling into the hands of jihadis.

"There are just two options: Assad sitting in Damascus or the Nusra sitting in Damascus," Peskov said in a reference to the Nusra Front, Al-Qaida's branch in Syria that renamed itself Fatah al-Sham Front earlier this year. "And Assad must sit in Damascus to ensure a political settlement."

Peskov's statement comes as the break in the fighting Russia has declared in the besieged city of Aleppo entered its third day before seemingly collapsing Saturday night. He said Russia's decision to extend the break, which was initially declared for just one day Thursday, wasn't a concession to Western pressure.

The UN greeted the lull intended to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians and fighters from the rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo that had been devastated by airstrikes. But the rebels rejected the offer to evacuate and no evacuations were seen along the corridors created by the Syrian government.

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