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Aleppo Ablaze amid Last-Ditch Efforts to Salvage Syria Ceasefire | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A boy inspects damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian regime forces in Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Huge blazes erupted in Syria’s Aleppo as the city was rocked by fighting and air strikes on Thursday, ahead of last-ditch efforts by world powers in New York to salvage a collapsing ceasefire.

The top diplomats from the United States and Russia were to meet with other key players in New York later Thursday, after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Syria’s peace process was facing a “make or break moment”.

The truce deal brokered by Moscow and Washington fell apart earlier this week, ushering in a surge of fighting on all major fronts of Syria’s five-year civil war.

Heavy clashes gripped the outskirts of Aleppo on Thursday, after air strikes triggered major fires across the city’s devastated rebel-held districts.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 strikes on the rebel-held neighborhoods of Bustan al-Qasr and Al-Kalasseh “led to massive fires” overnight.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said they were “the most intense strikes in months” on those two districts and that they had killed seven people, including three women and three children.

The overnight bombardment of rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo city killed 45 people, director of al-Quds hospital Dr. Hamza al-Khatib told Reuters.

The Britain-based monitor also reported fierce clashes in Aleppo’s southwestern district of Ramussa, where rebel groups are fighting off a regime offensive.

Fighting was also reported Thursday in the central provinces of Homs and Hama, and east of Damascus in the opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta.

As violence escalated on the ground, diplomatic efforts were set to continue in New York with a new meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on Thursday.

The ISSG, chaired by Moscow and Washington, met for an hour earlier this week but made little headway in agreeing on the next steps to end the war that has killed 300,000 people.

Also Thursday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for a temporary no-fly zone for military aircraft in Syria of up to seven days following the bombing of the aid convoy near Aleppo.

“The situation in Syria is now on a knife edge,” Steinmeier said according to a statement tweeted by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.

“If the ceasefire is to stand any chance (of succeeding), the only path is a temporary, but complete ban of all military aircraft movement in Syria – for at least three days, better would be seven days,” Steinmeier said.

Kerry demanded on Wednesday that Russia and the Syrian regime immediately halt flights over Syrian battle zones, in what he called a last chance to salvage the ceasefire.