AMMAN: Mortar fire reportedly struck and killed dozens of civilians Wednesday morning in east Aleppo while they were fleeing toward the city’s regime-held west, said local Civil Defense officials, the second such attack in two days.

Wednesday’s attack comes one day after regime artillery reportedly killed dozens of civilians on Tuesday as they fled their homes in Bab a-Nairab, a neighborhood in east Aleppo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says as many as 20,000 residents of east Aleppo have fled their homes since Monday, when pro-regime forces, backed by Syrian artillery and hundreds of Russian airstrikes, captured key neighborhoods.

“Intensified attacks” over east Aleppo’s northern neighborhoods “led 20,000 people to flee in different directions in search of a safe haven” in recent days, said ICRC in a report published on Tuesday.

  After the mortar attack Wednesday morning. Photo courtesy of Syrian Civil Defense-Aleppo.

On Wednesday, soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) reportedly shot “heavy artillery” fire at a group of civilians walking from regime-encircled east Aleppo’s northern neighborhoods toward relative safety in west Aleppo, Abu Karam al-Halabi, a citizen journalist in east Aleppo who was close to the scene of the attack, told Syria Direct.

“More than 45 people were killed, including 37 women and children, along the Jabb al-Qibbah road,” a key frontline thoroughfare connecting east and west Aleppo, he said. “They were all civilians.”

Victims lay across an east Aleppo road alongside luggage and tattered storefronts in a video shared online Wednesday by the Syrian Civil Defense, the volunteer first-response organization in opposition-held Syria.

With “only one remaining clinic in east Aleppo,” first responders were unable to accommodate the wounded, Ibrahim al-Haj, a Civil Defense spokesman, told Syria Direct. “Because hospitals were unable to provide emergency care, a number of the children died,” he said.

Al-Haj referred to the children and other victims who were even able to get to some sort of emergency-care facility. He estimated that dozens of people remain trapped under the rubble in east Aleppo that the Civil Defense cannot reach because of the “unprecedented escalation” in airstrikes and lack of adequate rescue equipment.

 After the attack on Wednesday morning. Photo courtesy of Syrian Civil Defense-Aleppo.

“We had four bulldozers, but we only have fuel to run two of them,” al-Haj said.

“The escalation is making it so that we cannot help everyone, and there is no fuel for the ambulances.”

On Monday, the spokesman said, “we lifted a boy out from under the rubble after more than six hours of trying to find him digging by hand without any equipment, but his three brothers died because we were too late getting to them.”

‘Left with two choices’

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Russian forces sent “military medics” to Aleppo and set up a field hospital to ensure safety for “more than 5,500 civilians, including 2,800 children” fleeing east Aleppo neighborhoods still under rebel control, state news agency Tass reported

Pro-opposition Syrian media outlet SMART news reported on Wednesday that east Aleppo rebels are forming a negotiating committee to evacuate civilians, not rebels, from the districts they still hold.  

The Aleppo district of Sheikh Saeed in the south of rebel-held Aleppo was captured by loyalist forces on Wednesday, Syrian state news agency SANA reported, citing what it called “a state of collapse and panic prevailing among the rest of the terrorist groups in a number of eastern neighborhoods.”

As regime forces build on their gains against rebels in the city, civilians must make a critical choice.

“We are left with only two choices,” said east Aleppo citizen journalist Abu Karam.

“The first is to flee to the areas under regime control,” he said. “The second is to stay in east Aleppo, and face the bombs, hunger and cold.”