ISTANBUL/NEW YORK —
The United States and its European allies are urging Russia to take “extraordinary” steps to support a cessation of hostilities in Syria.
In a joint statement released late Saturday, foreign ministers from the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Britain and high representatives of the European Union pushed Moscow to support humanitarian assistance, stop bombings on Syrians, and renew truce efforts.
“The burden is on Russia to prove it is willing and able to take extraordinary steps to salvage diplomatic efforts to restore a cessation of hostilities, allow unfettered humanitarian assistance and create the conditions necessary for the resumption of U.N.-led talks about a political transition,” the statement said.
The allies maintained their commitment to dismantle the Islamic State group and asked Russia to focus on al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.
Britain, France and the United States have called an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council Sunday morning (11 a.m. EDT - 1500 UTC) to address the crisis.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Saturday he is "appalled by the chilling military escalation" in the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo that witnesses say is spearheaded by Syrian forces and their Russian allies.
Ban heaped criticism on the international community, calling "this a dark day for the global commitment to protect civilians" in the country.
Ban also called on world powers to "send a clear message" that "the apparent systematic use" of incendiary bombs and and so-called bunker-buster bombs "will not be tolerated."
Separately, a grouping of Syrian humanitarian organizations warned that no truce would hold as long as Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and their Russian allies were "permitted to bomb, starve and torture Syrian civilians with impunity."
The warning came in a statement from the "Save Our Syria" organization, which earlier this year pressed the Obama administration to provide protection to civilians in Aleppo. The statement said its delegates would not support a return to Geneva peace talks until "a guarantee is provided that Syrian civilians will be protected through the enforcement of a nationwide no-bomb zone."
In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the "White Helmets," a destroyed ambulance is seen in the Ansari neighborhood in the rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo, Syria, Sept. 23, 2016.
'Fight against terrorism'
As the Russian-backed Syrian military pressed its Aleppo offensive Saturday, the country's foreign minister said Syrians would "not relent in their fight against terrorism."
"Our belief in victory is even greater now as the Syrian Arab Army is making great strides against terrorists, with the support of the true friends of the Syrian people — notably, the Russian Federation, Iran and the Lebanese national resistance [Hezbollah]," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem told the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
His remarks reinforced Western concerns that the Assad government is seeking a military end to the conflict, not a politically negotiated one, and that Russia supports that goal.
The United Nations said intense airstrikes against rebel-held areas of Aleppo had left 1.75 million people without running water, days into one of the heaviest sieges of the war.
Water pumping station damaged
The U.N.'s children's agency said in a statement that a key water pumping station supplying people in the city's east was damaged in airstrikes, and continuing violence was preventing crews from repairing it. In retaliation, the group said a second pumping station was switched off.
UNICEF said it would expand emergency water deliveries by truck in response.
Relentless airstrikes against the rebel-held section of Aleppo continued Saturday, with many buildings destroyed down to the basements, where many people hide during bombardments. Residents said that the ordnance appeared to be more powerful than the bombs and missiles used in the past, causing "earthquake-like tremors."
Amateur video from Aleppo showed multistory buildings that had collapsed under intense Russian and Syrian government airstrikes Saturday on the east side of the city. Bomb craters were visible amid the rubble of some buildings.
Another amateur video showed an older man clutching the lifeless body of his son, shouting, weeping and calling out his name.
Syrian government media claimed that Syrian and Russian warplanes were targeting ammunition depots inside rebel-held areas, causing buildings to collapse. VOA could not independently verify the claim.
In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, rescue workers work the site of airstrikes in al-Mashhad neighborhood in the rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo, Syria, Sept. 21, 2016.
Dozens killed Saturday
Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Arab media that dozens of people had been killed Saturday and that many others had been buried under collapsed buildings.
Rahman said that at least 15 neighborhoods in east Aleppo had been targeted by the Russian air force, with dozens of victims buried under the wreckage of destroyed buildings. He called the raids "unprecedented."
A civil defense worker said that his colleagues were attempting to recover survivors from under the rubble in many areas, despite the ongoing airstrikes and the destruction of facilities and rescue vehicles.
The Syrian Observatory said at least 25 people were killed Saturday. The previous day, at least 30 people, including several children, were reported to have been killed by Russian and Syrian airstrikes.
Witnesses said the surge in airstrikes began late Wednesday after the Syrian government announced a renewed offensive to recapture the entire city. That followed the failure by the U.S. and Russia to salvage a cease-fire that had defused hostilities for nearly a week.
Aleppo, the country's largest city, has been divided among government troops, rebel militias, Islamic extremists and Kurdish fighters since 2012. Syrian opposition media called the latest airstrikes over the city the "worst fighting" of the five-year-old conflict.