Rebels shell mosque in Aleppo as truce declared for other parts of Syria

Insurgents shelled a government-held area in the contested city of Aleppo, hitting a mosque and killing at least 15 people as they left Friday prayers, while government airstrikes struck rebel-held parts of Syria's largest city.

Violence over the past week has killed at least 202 civilians in contested city, group says

A man reacts to airstrikes that hit the rebel-held area of Aleppo's al-Fardous district in Syria on April 29, 2016. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

Insurgents shelled a government-held area in the contested city of Aleppo, hitting a mosque and killing at least 15 people as they left Friday prayers, while government airstrikes struck rebel-held parts of Syria's largest city — even as the army unilaterally declared a brief truce in other parts of the country.

The violence in Aleppo has killed more than 200 civilians over the past week and is likely to continue unchecked, as the government's ceasefire does not include the city.

Another 30 people injured when rockets struck Malla Khan mosque in the government-held Bab al-Faraj district shortly after Friday prayers, Syrian state TV reported. The attack followed an early morning lull in airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Aleppo, following days of deadly violence that killed scores.

Yet by late morning, air raids resumed on the city, killing at least 10 people, according to activists from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees.

Arabic writing on the wall in a rebel-held area of Syria reads "Aleppo is burning." (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

The LCC and the Observatory also reported shelling near a clinic in the rebel-held neighbourhood of Marjeh. The Syrian Civil Defence said there were no casualties in the shelling because the clinic was empty.

The humanitarian situation has deteriorated further in opposition-held neighbourhoods, which are almost encircled. The sole road leading in and out of rebel-held areas from northwest Aleppo is regularly targeted by sniper fire and shelling.

Hospital death toll rises

The carnage in Aleppo — a city contested since the summer of 2012, when opposition fighters took over several districts — was particularly bad on Wednesday and Thursday, when airstrikes and artillery killed more than 80 people, including dozens at a hospital in a rebel-held neighbourhood.

On Friday, Doctors Without Borders, which had supported the hospital alongside other international organizations, said the death toll in Thursday's bombing had risen to 50, including six medical staff and patients.

The medical charity — also known by its French acronym MSF — said it was "desperately" worried about the estimated 250,000 people living in rebel-held areas of Aleppo, who are in danger of being completely cut off and left without medical care.

A man reacts at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel held area of al-Kalaseh neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on April 28, 2016. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

"The sky is falling in Aleppo," said Muskilda Zancada, head of MSF's Syria mission.

"The city, consistently at the frontlines of this brutal war, is now in danger of coming under a full offensive, no corner is being spared. Attacks on hospitals and medical staff are a devastating indicator of how the war in Syria is waged, one of numerous brutal ways in which civilians are targeted," she said.

The hospital was one of the few remaining medical centres in Aleppo and had pediatric and cardiology wards. One of the city's last remaining pediatricians was killed in the bombing.

"Aleppo is already a shell of what it once was, this most recent assault appears determined to eliminate even that," Zancada said.

Also Friday, the Syrian army has declared a temporary truce for the capital, Damascus, its suburbs and the coastal province of Latakia — but not Aleppo.

It was not immediately clear what impact this unilateral declaration would have. The opposition seemed unlikely to abide by the truce after dozens were killed in government airstrikes in Aleppo.

The ceasefire is due to come into effect at 1 a.m. Saturday, according to announcement read on Syrian state TV. The military statement said it will last 24 hours in Damascus and its suburbs and three days in Latakia.

'Lethal escalation'

Yet in Aleppo, aid agencies warned of a potential humanitarian disaster following the collapse of a two-month U.S. and Russia-brokered ceasefire and the stalling of peace talks in Switzerland.

In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the latest reports of civilian deaths in Syria revealed a "monstrous disregard for civilian lives by all parties to the conflict."

A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria on Thursday, April 28. Violence over the past week has killed at least 202 civilians across rebel- and government-held areas of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. (Validated UGC via AP video)

In a statement released Friday, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged all sides to step back from a return to an all-out war.

"The cessation of hostilities and the Geneva talks were the only game in town, and if they are abandoned now, I dread to think how much more horror we will see in Syria," he said.

"The violence is soaring back to the levels we saw prior to the cessation of hostilities. There are deeply disturbing reports of military build-ups indicating preparations for a lethal escalation."

He added that targeting medical facilities and markets could "amount to war crimes."

According to the Observatory, airstrikes and shelling in Aleppo killed 202 civilians in the past week — 123 in rebel-held parts of the city and 71 in government-held areas. It said the dead included 31 children on both sides.

With files from Reuters