AMMAN: After a week-long pause, a barrage of more than 40 airstrikes has killed at least 66 people in rebel-held Aleppo city since Tuesday, in order to “inflict the maximum number of human losses and put pressure on Aleppo residents to leave,” an east Aleppo rebel spokesman told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

Over the past 24 hours, what appears to be Russian and regime airstrikes targeted three densely populated residential districts located along the frontlines of the regime’s ground advance on east Aleppo. The attacks, which reportedly included the use of bunker busters, vacuum missiles and artillery fire, leveled entire apartment buildings, sources told Syria Direct.

Despite fierce fighting, little ground has actually changed hands over the past week. But with renewed airstrikes, east Aleppo residents say they fear an intensified ground campaign on the 250,000-person rebel stronghold.

A series of airstrikes, purportedly of Russian origin, targeted a popular, open-air market in east Aleppo’s al-Fardous district Wednesday morning, the Aleppo Media Center reported.

 The aftermath of Wednesday’s airstrikes on Aleppo. Photo courtesy of Mahmoud Rslan.

“Today alone, at least 25 people have been killed,” Ibrahim Abu Layth, the spokesman for the Aleppo Civil Defense, told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “We’re still continuing to pull bodies—both casualties and the injured—from underneath the rubble. 

Over the past three weeks, Syrian government and Russian aircraft have waged a massive aerial assault on the rebel-controlled districts of Aleppo, killing hundreds of civilians, while the Syrian army has begun slowly carving away territory through a ground assault on the heart of the opposition stronghold.

Russia, for its part, characterizes its actions in Syria as eliciting a political solution.

“We see our main tasks [in Syria] as eradicating the terrorist threat, improving the humanitarian situation, and launching a political process as soon as possible,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow on October 6.

Last Wednesday, Syrian state media announced the government’s intention to reduce its shelling of eastern Aleppo “to assist civilians who wish to exit” the area. Local residents confirmed to Syria Direct a substantial seven-day drop-off in bombings.    

Then on Tuesday, airstrikes hit three districts—al-Fardous, Bustan al-Qasr and al-Qatarji—immediately adjacent to the regime’s frontlines where thousands of government fighters are reportedly preparing a large ground assault on a regime district.

The assault on three districts adds credence to the theory that the regime will attempt “to drive a wedge from the citadel toward the Aleppo International Airport,” as a pro-regime correspondent told Syria Direct last Wednesday.

“The regime’s forces will never stop in their attempt to take over control of Aleppo,” Ahmed Hamaher, a spokesman in Aleppo for rebel brigade Nour e-Din a-Zinki, told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “Every single day, they’ll continue to try to advance on these districts under the cover of air assaults and artillery fire.”

 Aerial footage of east Aleppo’s al-Mashhad neighborhood. Video courtesy of the Aleppo Media Center.

The attacks, Hamaher said, “are acutely concentrated on residential districts inside the city,” he added. “The main target is to inflict the maximum number of human losses and put pressure on Aleppo residents and cut off any reason for them to live.”

Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA, confirmed on Wednesday that warplanes of the Syrian armed forces “carried out a number of airstrikes on positions of terrorist organizations inside Aleppo city.”

“We knew that the warplanes would return,” Omar Arab, an Aleppo-based citizen journalist, told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “Residents here are talking about the regime’s attempts to pressure them to get out and force them to leave.”

“Nowhere in Aleppo is safe for civilians,” Hussam Khalaf, an employee at an east Aleppo field hospital, told Syria Direct.

“When a single missile can level an entire building, there’s nowhere that you can hide.”