27 killed as air strikes hit Syria hospital
Air strikes destroyed a hospital and killed dozens of people in rebel-held areas of Syria's Aleppo including children and doctors, and the United Nations called on Moscow and Washington to salvage a "barely-alive" cease-fire.
The city of Aleppo is at the epicentre of a military escalation that has undermined peace talks in Geneva to end the five-year-old war and UN envoy Stefan de Mistura appealed to the presidents of the United States and Russia to intervene.
Six days of air strikes and rebel shelling in Aleppo, which is split between government forces and rebels, have killed some 200 people in the city, two-thirds of them on the opposition side, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.
The Geneva talks aim to end a war that has killed more than 250,000 people, created the world's worst refugee crisis, allowed for the rise of Islamic State and drawn in regional and major powers but the negotiations have all but failed and a truce to allow them to take place has collapsed.
Winding up the Geneva talks, de Mistura said he aimed to resume them in May, but gave no date.
A Syrian military source said government planes had not been in areas where air raids were reported. Syria's army denied reports that the Syrian air force targetted the hospital.
The Russian defence ministry, whose air strikes have swung the war in favour of President Bashar al-Assad, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The British-based Observatory said 31 people were killed as a result of air strikes on several areas of opposition-held Aleppo yesterday. In addition, it said at least 27 people were killed in the air strike on the hospital that was struck late on Wednesday. Rescue workers put the toll higher.
In government-held areas, rebel mortar shelling killed at least 14 people, the Observatory and Syria's state news agency SANA reported.
The bombed al-Quds hospital was supported by international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which said it was destroyed after being hit by a direct air strike that killed at least three doctors.
"This devastating attack has destroyed a vital hospital in Aleppo, and the main referral centre for paediatric care in the area," said Muskilda Zancada, MSF head of mission, Syria. "Where is the outrage among those with the power and obligation to stop this carnage?"
Peace talks, which have been deeply divided on the future of Assad, looked to be over last week when the opposition walked out, saying the Syrian government was stalling for time to advance on the ground and calling for implementation of a U.N. resolution requiring full humanitarian access to besieged areas.
De Mistura voiced deep concern at the truce unravelling in Aleppo and at least three other places, but also said he saw some narrowing of positions between the government and opposition visions of political transition.
"Hence my appeal for a US-Russian urgent initiative at the highest level, because the legacy of both President Obama and President Putin is linked to the success of what has been a unique initiative," de Mistura told a news conference.
They should "be able to revitalise what they have created and which is still alive but barely".
The United States and Russia must convene a ministerial meeting of major and regional powers who compose the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), he said.
Giving a chilling statistic about the backdrop of violence against which the talks played out, de Mistura said that in the past 48 hours there had been an average of one Syrian civilian killed every 25 minutes and one wounded every 13 minutes.
Meanwhile, the US-led military coalition targeted Islamic State in Iraq and Syria with 22 strikes on Wednesday in its latest daily attack on the militant group, the coalition leading the operations said.