By Angus McDowall
BEIRUT All hospitals in Syria's besieged rebel-held eastern Aleppo are out of service after days of heavy air strikes, its health directorate and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday, but a war monitor said some were still working. "This destruction of infrastructure essential to life leaves the besieged, resolute people, including all children and elderly men and women, without any health facilities offering life-saving treatment ... leaving them to die," said Aleppo's health directorate in a statement sent to Reuters by an opposition official. Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Syria, said a U.N.-led group of aid agencies based over the border in Turkey "confirmed today that all hospitals in eastern Aleppo are out of service."However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said that some hospitals were still operating in the besieged parts of Aleppo but that many residents were frightened to use them because of heavy shelling. Medical sources, residents and rebels in eastern Aleppo say hospitals have been damaged by air strikes and helicopter barrel bombs in recent days, including direct hits on the buildings. Health and rescue workers have previously been able to bring damaged hospitals back into operation but a lack of supplies is making that harder.
Intense air strikes have battered eastern Aleppo since Tuesday when the Syrian army and its allies resumed operations after a pause lasting weeks. They launched ground attacks against insurgent positions on Friday. Syrian state television said on Tuesday the air force had targeted "terrorist strongholds and supply depots" in Aleppo. Russia has said its air force is only conducting air strikes in other parts of Syria. The Damascus government describes all the rebels fighting it as terrorists.Both countries have denied deliberately targeting hospitals and other civilian infrastructure during the war, which began in 2011 and was joined by Russia's air force in September 2015.
The war pits President Bashar al-Assad backed by Russia, Iran and Shi'ite militias against a medley of Sunni rebels including groups supported by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, as well as jihadist groups.
Aleppo, for years split between a rebel-held east and government-held western sector, has become the fiercest front. During the summer, pro-government forces managed to besiege the districts held by insurgents which are home to about 270,000 people, according to the United Nations. An army offensive backed by a major aerial bombardment from late September to late October killed hundreds, according to the United Nations, and tightened the siege, leaving eastern Aleppo with little food, medicine or fuel. A rebel counter-attack early this month involved shelling that killed dozens of civilians, the U.N. said, but it quickly petered out and the army and its allies, including Hezbollah and Iraqi militias, reversed all insurgent gains in about two weeks. Warplanes, artillery and helicopters continued bombarding eastern Aleppo on Saturday, hitting many of its densely populated residential districts, the Observatory said. (Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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