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Air strikes hit Aleppo as Syria declares truce over

AFP archive | Smoke billows from a location on the southern outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo on September 4, 2016

Shells and bombs rained down on rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Monday less than two hours after Syria's army declared an end to a week-long ceasefire agreed between Russia and the US.

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According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, air strikes by Russian or Syrian regime warplanes hit rebel-held areas in central Aleppo and villages to the west of the city.

Damascus and its ally Moscow blamed rebels for the failure of the truce, but Washington said the terms had not been met for a key aspect of the deal -- US-Russia cooperation against jihadists.

The US, Russia and other key players are to meet Tuesday in New York for talks on the process to end Syria's devastating five-year conflict, which has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions.

Stakes had been high when the ceasefire began on September 12, with US Secretary of State John Kerry warning at the time that it could be the "last chance" to save the country.

But it unravelled about an hour before it had been due to expire on Monday night.

An AFP correspondent in Aleppo reported that the northern city was being pummelled.

Sirens wailed as ambulances zipped through the eastern rebel-held half of the divided city, the correspondent said, describing the bombardment as "non-stop".

The Syrian armed forces announced the end to the truce, blaming rebels it said had violated the ceasefire more than 300 times and failed to "commit to a single element" of the US-Russia deal.

Under the agreement, fighting was to halt across Syria and humanitarian aid would reach desperate civilians -- particularly in devastated eastern Aleppo.

The first few days had been calm, but violence escalated sharply, culminating in a deadly US-led air raid at the weekend on a Syrian army position and fresh strikes on Aleppo.

Hopes buried

As part of the agreement, the US military was to have set up a joint cell with Russian forces to target jihadists in Syria if the ceasefire held.

Kerry said at UN headquarters in New York that Russia had failed to meet its side of the deal to enforce the truce, adding however that Washington was willing to keep working on it.

The US secretary of state had said the ceasefire was "holding but fragile" and held out hopes of ongoing talks with the Russians in Geneva.

Moscow appeared to bury hopes that the truce would last, however.

"Considering that the conditions of the ceasefire are not being respected by the rebels, we consider it pointless for the Syrian government forces to respect it unilaterally," said Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy.

The Russian general said "the main issue" was that non-jihadist rebels had not been separated from Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate on the ground.

Violence increased across the country on Monday, with fierce clashes reported east of Damascus and one child killed in regime shelling on the edges of Aleppo.

Since September 12, 27 civilians, including nine children, have been killed in areas where the truce had been set to take hold, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The bloodiest day for civilians was Sunday, when a barrel bomb attack killed 10 in a southern rebel-held town and one woman died in the first raids on Aleppo since the truce started.

The ceasefire came under massive strain after a US-led coalition strike hit a Syrian army post Saturday near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where government forces are battling the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Monday the coalition raid showed world powers support "terrorist organisations" like the IS group.

"The latest example of this is the flagrant American aggression on one of the Syrian army's positions in Deir Ezzor," he said.

Air raid was 'intentional'

Senior government adviser Buthaina Shaaban told AFP Sunday that Damascus believed the raid, which killed at least 62 Syrian soldiers, had been "intentional".

Loyalist forces backed by Russian and Syrian warplanes were fighting to roll back the IS group's advance there, a military source said.

Under the US-Russia agreement, fighting was to have halted across Syria and humanitarian aid would reach civilians suffering increasingly dire humanitarian conditions.

On Monday, convoys of food and medical aid reached two hard-to-reach areas, according to David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Aid was delivered to tens of thousands in rebel-held Talbisseh, where at least two people were killed by shelling during the truce.

Another 78,000 people living in and around Greater Orum in the north of Aleppo province would also receive flour and health supplies, Swanson said.

But convoys to rebel-held districts of Aleppo, besieged by government troops, were still stuck on the border with Turkey.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said he was "pained" that Aleppo had still not received promised aid deliveries.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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