(CNN) — At least 85 people were killed in intense airstrikes on opposition-held eastern Aleppo Sunday, an activist group reported, as the Syrian government continued its furious offensive in the wake of a collapsed ceasefire.
More than 300 people were wounded in the bombardment, according to the Aleppo Media Center, an opposition-affiliated group of activists that works to document the conflict.
Activists say rescue operations are difficult in Aleppo because of the constant presence of jets in the sky. Three activists were among the wounded Sunday. The Aleppo Media Center said hospitals in Aleppo were facing severe shortages of blood.
The renewed attacks come as the United Nations Security Council held a crisis meeting Sunday to discuss the Syrian government offensive on Aleppo that has raged since the shaky ceasefire deal fell apart last week. Diplomats exchanged fiery words during the session.
The US Ambassador to the United Nations accused Russia of engaging in barbarism in Syria.
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it is barbarism,” Samantha Power told the Security Council.
“Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” Power said.
For his part, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said the US-led coalition’s support for rebels was hampering humanitarian efforts.
“The humanitarian situation in Aleppo could have been normalized in August but that was not done, it was not allowed because the armed groups prevented that,” he said.
The United States, Britain and France requested the session in the wake of the regime’s military push to retake rebel-held parts of eastern Aleppo in recent days.
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, told the Security Council that his government plans to retake all of the territory lost to rebels, including the city of Aleppo.
The opposition says the violence has been even more intense than before the ceasefire took hold.
Hundreds of airstrikes have pummeled the city since the Syrian government, backed by Russia, announced a renewed, “comprehensive” offensive Thursday following the collapse of the short-lived ceasefire. The offensive, involving ground troops as well as air power, has targeted rebel positions across the country, inflicting “heavy losses” on them, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.
Residents of eastern Aleppo, where more than 250,000 civilians are besieged by government forces, reported ongoing barrel-bomb attacks Sunday.
Saturday, Syrian government troops and supporting militia made their first major ground advance of the assault on Aleppo, seizing control of the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp on the city’s northeastern outskirts, while warplanes bombarded the east, according to SANA.
Rebels then launched a counteroffensive to try to retake the area, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). There were conflicting reports as to the outcome of the fighting.
UK Foreign Secretary: Russia “handed Assad the revolver”
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Sunday that Russia is guilty of protracting the Syrian war and making it “far more hideous.”
Talking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Johnson said Putin’s regime not only “handed Assad the revolver” but in some instances is “actually firing the revolver.”
“When it comes to instances such as the bombing of civilian targets in Aleppo, we should be looking at whether or not that targeting is done in the knowledge that those are wholly innocent civilian targets. That is a war crime,” Johnson said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said that the Syrian government’s use of airstrikes, incendiary weapons and bunker-buster bombs in densely populated areas may amount to war crimes.
In a statement Saturday, he condemned the “chilling military escalation in the city of Aleppo, which is facing the most sustained and intense bombardment since the start of the Syrian conflict.”
Syria’s military declared the ceasefire over on Monday, after a strike by US-led coalition warplanes on a Syrian army post, which killed dozens of troops. The US military did not dispute the strike, but characterized it as “unintentional” and relayed its “regret” to Syria through Russia, saying the intended target had been ISIS.
Shortly after the ceasefire ended Monday, a UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy was hit in an airstrike, killing about 20 people. US officials blamed Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s critical ally, while Moscow denied that Russian or Syrian warplanes were responsible.
Gerges: ‘Deficit of trust’
The United States and Russia, which brokered the ceasefire, have continued talks about how to revive it.
But both have accused the other of failing to adequately rein in forces under their influence on the ground — rebels, in the case of the United States, and the Syrian government, in Russia’s case. Russia stresses that rooting out terrorist groups is key to securing peace, while the United States has blamed the Syrian government for the ceasefire’s failure, and called for military aircraft to be grounded.
Fawaz Gerges, professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, said there is a “deficit of trust” between the two powers that is complicating efforts to restore the ceasefire.
Russia has deployed more military resources in the Syrian war than the United States, for whom the conflict was less of a strategic consideration, giving Russia and its Syrian ally the upper hand on the battlefield, he said.
He said he believed the latest heavy offensive was an attempt to make battlefield gains that could strengthen Syria and Russia’s hands at the next round of talks.
“It’s about maximizing the bargaining position of Russia and Assad,” he said, adding that Moscow likely hoped to use its leverage in the conflict to win broader concessions from the United States, such as in relation to Ukraine and other disputes.