About 180, including 21 children, were killed by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday, the Revolution Council reported, amid a brutal army offensive to retake the country’s commercial capital Aleppo.
Four buildings were set ablaze early in the day in Aleppo’s Salaheddin district as opposition fighters battled a long-anticipated army offensive.
“It started at 4:00 am (1:00 GMT) and eight hours later it’s still hell. This is madness,” an AFP correspondent reported on Saturday.
Four helicopters launched salvoes of rockets before the rebel-held district, which has been surrounded by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, was bombarded by artillery and tanks.
Families fled the fighting, clutching jars of preserves and bottles of milk and water amid food shortages.
Three women sheltering in a Salaheddin basement were all armed with small pistols.
“I would choose death rather than be attacked by the regime soldiers,” said one.
Many panic-stricken women and children have fled the quarter since Friday for other parts of the city, leaving behind only groups of men.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that more than 20,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of an anti-regime revolt in March 2011.
“At least 20,028 people, among them 13,978 civilians and rebels, 968 army defectors and 5,082 members of the regime forces have been killed since the start of the revolt on March 15 of last year,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory.
Russia warned that a “tragedy” was looming in Syria’s second city of Aleppo but said it was unrealistic to expect Damascus to stand by when armed rebels were occupying major cities.
The head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main umbrella group for opposition to President Assad, said the SNC’s foreign allies would be responsible for bloodshed in the city if they did not act quickly to prevent it.
“Our friends and allies will bear responsibility for what is happening in Aleppo if they do not move soon,” Abdelbasset Sida, visiting the United Arab Emirates for talks with officials, told a news conference early on Sunday.
Asked how the SNC’s allies could help, Sida said they would have to act outside the United Nations Security Council because initiatives within the council could be vetoed. Russia has blocked efforts to threaten Assad with U.N. sanctions.
“Any action has to be from outside the Security Council through an Arab League initiative and through a resolution passed by the General Assembly,” he said.