The Syrian military forces on Thursday (22 September) launched a major new offensive in the rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo, The announcement from the Syrian defence ministry late Thursday, came many hours after heavy air strikes left parts of Aleppo in flames, a UK-based monitor group and activists said.

According to AFP news agency, an entire street in the southern Bustan al-Qasr district went up in flames after jets dropped incendiary bombs.

In a statement carried by the state news agency Sanaa, the ministry said: "The military operations command announces the start of operations in eastern districts of the city and calls on residents to stay away from the positions of terrorist groups." It added that there would be "no punishment or arrest for any citizen who reaches the checkpoints of the Syrian Arab army" and that it has "taken all measures to receive civilians and secure their shelter".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it is "a large-scale land offensive supported by Russian air strikes aimed at taking bit by bit the eastern sector of Aleppo and emptying it of its residents". The head of the monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman, said, "The initial targets were the Amiriyah, Sukari and Sheikh Said sectors, to the south." Around 250,000 people live in eastern Aleppo, which was captured by the rebels in 2012.

The offensive also comes after US and Russia failed to make any progress on reviving the collapsed ceasefire at an International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in New York. The ceasefire was put in place for a period of seven days by Moscow and Washington on 9 September. Like all previous ceasefires, this deal collapsed as well, prolonging the five-and-a-half year old war that killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced half the population in the country.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry said on Thursday after a meeting with the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), "We can't go out to the world and say we have an agreement, when we don't. Nor can we tell our partners that there is a cessation, when there isn't."

"The simple reality is that we can't resolve a crisis if one side is unwilling to do what is necessary to avoid escalation. And we won't get anywhere if we begin by ignoring facts and plain common sense, or denying the truth," he said.

"If the Russians come back to us with constructive proposals we will listen," he added.

Syria Aleppo
A man runs with a stretcher at a damaged site after airstrikes on the rebel-held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria 21 September 2016REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail