Warplanes dropped incendiary phosphorus bombs on Aleppo, Syria on Wednesday night in what many are calling the heaviest airstrike the area has seen this year. Rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo caught fire overnight and airstrikes continued through Thursday afternoon. The death toll reached 49 on Wednesday evening, but counting stopped as hospitals were overwhelmed. At least 13 are thought to have joined that number overnight.
This Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that at least 14 airstrikes had hit the city, especially in the Bustan al-Qasr and Kallasa districts. Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Observatory believes the bombings to be “the most intense strikes in months.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied claims that the Syrian army was responsible for Wednesday night’s attacks. In response to the Syrian American Medical Society’s announcement that a UN medical clinic in Khan Tuman district was bombed in the attacks, Assad told the Associated Press, “We don’t attack any hospitals. This is how we can help the terrorists, if we attack hospitals, schools, and things like this.”
Aleppo has been divided between government and rebel control since 2012, placing nearly two million Syrians in the center of the conflict.
These airstrikes come barely a week after a cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia fell-through. Since Aleppo contains a large civilian population, but has been at the center of much of the Syrian war, the United Nations has struggled to send aid. The US-Russian cease-fire was originally agreed upon to allow humanitarian organizations to send aid to Aleppo. However, fighting resumed before any aid could reach the city.
This Monday the UN sent an aid convoy to Syria, but it was attacked by unknown forces before it could deliver any assistance. Syrian Arab Red Crescent trucks carrying food and medicine for the UN were heavily bombed while unloading materials at a warehouse in Urem al-Kubra. The US has announced that two Russian Su-24 ground attack aircraft were likely responsible for the convoy bombing as they were in the area during the time of the attack. In opposition, Russia has argued that a US Predator drone was instead in the region.
Humanitarian adviser to the UN envoy for Syria Jan Egeland described Monday’s attack on the UN convoy as “the worst attack ever sustained on a cross-line convoy.” Yet, he emphasized, “We are not giving up. The entire humanitarian nature is about not giving up.”
Wednesday night’s bombings came just as the UN resumed attempts at sending aid after Monday’s devastating attack. A UN convoy made it as far as the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday, carrying food for 40,000 people. More convoys will likely be sent on Friday and Saturday.