Nearly 2M people without running water as fighting escalates in Aleppo

Syrian government forces captured a rebel-held area on the edge of Aleppo on Saturday, and nearly two million people were without running water following an escalation in fighting over the past few days.

Dozens reported killed since ceasefire collapsed earlier this week

A man carries an injured child after airstrikes on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, September 21, 2016. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

Syrian government forces captured a rebel-held area on the edge of Aleppo on Saturday, tightening their siege on opposition-held neighbourhoods in the northern city as an ongoing wave of airstrikes destroyed more buildings.

The new government push came as the UN said that nearly two million people in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and onetime commercial centre, are without running water following an escalation in fighting over the past few days.

Government forces captured the rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat as airstrikes pounded rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo, killing at least 25 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Local Co-ordination Committees, another monitoring group, said 49 were killed on Saturday alone.

Death toll expected to rise

The Observatory said the death toll in Aleppo is expected to rise since many wounded people are in critical condition and rescue workers are still digging through the rubble.

Residents say the latest bombardment is the worst they've seen since rebels captured parts of the city in 2012.

An unnamed Syrian military official was quoted by state media on Friday as saying that airstrikes and shelling in Aleppo would continue for an extended period and "include a ground offensive" into rebel-held areas.

Another unnamed Syrian military official quoted by state TV confirmed the capture of Handarat, adding that many insurgents were killed. He said experts are removing explosives from the area. The camp, which is almost empty and largely destroyed, has witnessed intense fighting and bombardment in recent years. It has changed hands in the past between government forces and insurgents.

People inspect a damaged site after airstrikes on the rebel held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, September 23, 2016. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

The push came as diplomats in New York have failed to salvage a ceasefire that lasted nearly a week, before giving way to what residents and activists say is a new level of violence.

Airstrikes 'may amount to war crimes'

A statement from the UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon said he is "appalled by the chilling military escalation in the city of Aleppo, which is facing the most sustained and intense bombardment since the start of the Syrian conflict."

The statement adds that "airstrikes involving the use of incendiary weapons" in densely populated areas "may amount to war crimes."

His message comes in stark contrast to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem's address to the UN General Assembly Saturday, which took credit for "combating terrorism on behalf of the whole world."

"No one is more committed than the Syrian government to ending the suffering of Syrians and providing them with a life of dignity wherever they may be."

Yet the bombing, which began in earnest late Wednesday, has been unprecedented, targeting residential areas, infrastructure and civil defence centres.

Living conditions in the already-battered eastern districts have meanwhile grown even worse.

Children at 'catastrophic' risk

Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria, said intense attacks damaged the Bab al-Nairab station, which supplies water to some 250,000 people in the rebel-held east.

Singer said that in retaliation, the Suleiman al-Halabi pumping station, also located in the rebel-held east, was switched off —  cutting water to 1.5 million people in government-held western parts of the city.

"Depriving children of water puts them at risk of catastrophic outbreaks of water-borne diseases," Singer warned in her statement, released late Friday.