The US president-elect and Russian president discussed “regulating the conflict in Syria” and the need to combat “international terrorism and extremism”, Putin’s office said in a statement.
The attacks on rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo came after weeks of relative calm in the city, with bombing raids instead focused on the surrounding rural areas. The raids killed at least three people within a few hours, rights groups said.
“Regime aircraft launched strikes and dropped barrel bombs on a number of neighbourhoods in the east of Aleppo for the first time since 18 October,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Residents of besieged neighbourhoods shared videos of bombs falling on the city. Three hospitals in the Aleppo countryside were targeted on Monday and attacks on surrounding areas began before jets and helicopters hit the city, they said.
Bana Alabed, seven, whose mother tweets daily updates of life in Aleppo, said she had counted at least 20 bombs landing on the city a couple of hours into the attack.
The activist Baraa al-Halabi, who is based in eastern Aleppo, said via text messages that jets were targeting the city with conventional weapons and helicopters were dropping improvised barrel bombs. “People are scared. The bombardment is intense,” he said.
The Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Russia had launched missile strikes against Islamic State militants in Idlib province, using missiles and jets flying from the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, which made a highly publicised trip from Russia to Syria last month.
He did not mention Aleppo, where Russian bombing has been particularly controversial. Isis has virtually no presence there and the extreme suffering of more than 200,000 trapped civilians, and the extent of bombing raids against them, have prompted an international outcry.
A Russian defence ministry spokesman denied that its planes were hitting Aleppo. The improvised barrel bombs described by Halabi are a notable tactic of Syria’s government and state television said the Syrian air force had carried out strikes against what it called “terrorist strongholds” in Aleppo.
But the assaults are part of a wider offensive in which Russia is playing a key role, and the UK international development secretary, Priti Patel, in effect accused the Russian government of complicity in the attacks by calling on Moscow to stop them.
“Russia must call a halt to the new wave of bombs hitting the besieged city of Aleppo,” she said in a statement, describing the bombardment as a “sickening” violation of international law. “This will only worsen an already desperate humanitarian situation. I urge Russia and the Assad regime to prove that they can show restraint.”
Patel called on the the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to allow food and medicine into the city, where supplies are running low after more than three months under siege.
The War Child charity said the US election had distracted attention from the suffering in the city and called on the British prime minister, Theresa May, to put more pressure on Syria and Russia to halt the bombing.
“She must consider implementing targeted sanctions against those who commit war crimes, the introduction of a no-fly zone to end helicopter attacks on civilian areas, and a no-bombing zone, in which the regime’s military infrastructure would be targeted in response to any further attacks on civilians,” it said in a statement.
Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city and its cultural and commercial hub, but whole districts have been virtually abandoned over years of intense street fighting, and many parts of the east have been bombed into rubble. It is also being starved by a slowly tightening siege, broken only briefly in the summer.
A semblance of normal life continues in west Aleppo. Regaining full control of the city would be a huge boost for forces loyal to Assad for its symbolic value and because it is the only major urban area still controlled by the opposition.
Assad’s forces, backed by Iranian and other Shia militias and Russian air power, have used a policy of bombing the opposition to the negotiating table, while starving the communities that support them into surrender.
They appear to be deploying the same tactics in Aleppo, where the scale of suffering has provoked international outrage and pressure to end the attacks in recent weeks.
Anti-Assad rebels fear that Trump’s election could seal their fate because of his relationship with Putin and his isolationist views, or at the very least give the Syrian president and his backers a freer hand to continue their campaign.
Author: Emma Graham-Harrison