World

UNITED NATIONS/DAMASCUS – A new wave of heavy air strikes on the Syrian city of Aleppo has left nearly two million people without water, Unicef says.

The UN children’s agency says fierce airstrikes ahead of ground offensive prevented repairs to a damaged pumping station supplying rebel-held districts of the city.

In retaliation, Unicef says, a nearby station pumping water to the rest of Aleppo has been switched off.

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Unicef spokesman Kieran Dwyer said the lack of running water could be “catastrophic” as residents now had to resort to contaminated water and were at risk from waterborne diseases.

Fresh strikes were reported in the city on Saturday, as the Syrian army presses on with its push to retake rebel areas, the BBC reports.

The latest offensive was launched after a ceasefire between Syrian government and US-backed rebels collapsed on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that reports on the war, said at least 50 people had been killed on Saturday.

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Announcing the new offensive on state television late on Thursday, the Syrian government warned Aleppo residents to “stay away” from “terrorist positions”.

The Syrian defence ministry has called on residents to move to government-held areas, adding there would be “no detention, or inquiry to any citizen” who reached the checkpoints that divide the city.

The Syrian military, which is backed by the Russian air force, said it was starting a new operation against the rebel-held east. The army also denied hitting civilians.

The Russian army has not confirmed its involvement in the latest offensive. Russia supports the Syrian government, while the US backs the opposition. The two powers accuse each other of failing to rein in their respective allies on the ground.

Aleppo was once Syria’s commercial and industrial hub but has been ravaged by fighting and roughly divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since mid-2012.

The Syrian conflict has seen more than 400,000 people killed and almost 11 million Syrians – half the country’s prewar population – displaced.