As airstrikes rage on, assist workers on the ground expect blockades at any moment and have tried to prepare, but know they cant satisfy everyones needs and have lost religion in the subsistence promised by international agencies

The bombs are falling so fast in Aleppo now that often rescuers dont have time to reach victims between explosions. If the deadly detonations that struck on just one day last week had been evenly spaced, they would have struck every other minute around the clock.

Sometimes there are so many airstrikes, we are just waiting and waiting at our headquarters, and the jets dont leave the skies, says Abdulrahman Alhassan, a 29 -year-old former bank technologist from the city who coordinates white helmet rescue teams in the city.

When at last we cant see any more, we have to rush to all the sites to rescue people and evacuate them at once, he said. On Friday, the group counted 900 airstrikes by government forces and their Russian backers, apparently throwing every weapon they have at the already devastated city.

Aid groups and people still inside the city believe the barrage is preparing the route for a siege. The main supply line north of Aleppo has already been cut, and it will not take long before famines bite in a ruined, desperate city.

The Russian airstrikes are trying to completely destroy the region before they get on the ground and start the siege, said Saad, a 35 -year-old aid worker who chose to stay on and is now trapped inside the city. He says the bombing campaign was reaching both morale and food supplies.

Refugee

Refugee children arrive in Bab-Al Salam, near Azaz , northern Syria. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/ AFP/ Getty Images

In the last three days, they attacked public marketplaces, he told the Observer by phone. Lets say the psychological state is worsening because of the possibility of a siege; people are really terrified. People are too poor to prepare. They live on bread “were in” distributing to them. Now there is no way to furnish this bread and to help them.

Food costs are already going to go, he said, and people are afraid that a siege could even cut off water. When the roads are cut, we wont have fuel, which means no generators , no energy and no water, because we are using wells that need generators to pump it up.

As many as 100,000 people have fled north towards the Turkish border, to escape the bombs and impending siege, but hundreds of thousands of others are still in rebel-held parts of the city and its immediate suburbs. Some of them are trapped because they are too poor, while others have simply given up trying to outrun a war that has raged back and forth across their country for years.

People have lost hope since they are dont have money to get out, or a safe place to go to if they do leave. Other areas in Syria are also under bombardment and, if they try to go to Turkey, the border is closed, said Munier Mustafa, head of the White Helmets in Aleppo. So they guess, we can die in our own homes, we dont need to go to other places to die.

His squads are utilizing their rescue vehicles to evacuate civilians where they can, but the military advance is so rapid they, too, are fretted the effort might be pointless. These places where we move people are safe today compared to Aleppo, but we dont know about tomorrow. Like many rescue and aid workers who have chosen to stay in the city, he has shrugged off pleas to escape while he can. I myself face pressure from my family to leave because of the bombing, everything they are hearing every hour. But we are still here because we can still assistance, and merely God can help us.

The Syrian Civil Defence, as the White Helmets are formally known, began stockpiling for a possible siege when troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad made rapid advances towards areas that have been opponent strongholds for years.

Regime forces-out have often used sieges in the war and, while taking Aleppo now would be a highly symbolic victory for the regime, it would also require street-by-street fighting, which effectively neutralises the advantage of Russian air support. A blockade would aim to starve rebel forces-out and their civilian advocates into submission.

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Virtually 40,000 Syrian civilians have fled Aleppo. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/ AFP/ Getty Images

Psychologically, we are prepared, we insured it coming, but we still need more assistance from the world; we cannot fulfill everyones requires, Mustafa said, adding that their supplyings are only enough for the rescue squads to keep working.

We have specific quantities of ga, equipment, but it is still limited, all we can do is carry on like this for a few weeks, he said. We cant secure the well-being of those people under siege for a long time, this is beyond our abilities.

The work they can do, excavating people from rubble after attacks and administering basic first aid, has get far deadlier in recent weeks as the pace and nature of airstrikes escalated.

The type of weapons is different in recent days. Russian airstrikes are launching rockets that destroy a complete region , not just a building. So many people succumbed under the debris, said Ahmed, an NGO worker north of Aleppo who didnt want to give his family name. There are also far more aircrafts, pounding tiny regions. I witnessed up to nine planes at once in a raid, he said. I am trying to move their own families because of the airstrikes, as the place where they live was bombarded more than 35 days in one hour.

His sister and two children were injured and their house badly injury, but they survived because the bombs targeted the house next door. They are now living in a car near the border, hoping to cross, although guards turned down a $1,000 bribe he offered.

In his home village, where just a week ago things were almost normal food and bread for sale the situation is even more grim. In my area, many families are living under the trees, and in the street, under the rain. Last night and today[ it has rained heavily ], so they are outdoors and have no fund to get any transportation.

To get to the border from his town costs around PS25, but that is an impossible sum for most residents, many of whom have already fled two or three times. These people have nothing.

The Syrian people are just victims of the hypocrisy and lies of the international community. They always say we are supporting Syrians and help, but nothing happens. We are killed in massive numbers, but no one cares, Ahmed said.

They feel abandoned by the international community, which had promised peace talks in a week that has brought desolation instead.

Many in the city no longer even want to talk about their desperate situation, convinced the world no longer reads or cares, said Alhassan, the rescue worker. We spoke so many times and dont ensure any benefits it just doesnt make sense , none of them are helping us. They are just watching and writing articles but, in the end , no one stands up with us.

KEY FACTORS BEHIND THE BATTLE

Why is Aleppo so important ?

Aleppo was Syrias largest city before the civil war, an industrial and cultural hub with a rich history. It has been an opposition stronghold since the early months of the conflict. Its capture would be a strategic and symbolic victory for the Syrian government, and would deprive the opponent of one of its major bargaining chips in any peace talks.

Has Syrian president Bashar al-Assad effectively won the war ?

Syrian

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

No. Russias decision to intervene more aggressively in the war has played a critical role in turning the tide of fighting in favour of the governmental forces forces-out. They have taken swaths of province, and the loss of areas round Aleppo is a big blow to opposition morale.

But thousands of opponent fighters have flooded into the city promising to defend it to the death. Many other areas is still at opposition control and, even if Assad continues to advance, he will one day have to take over Isis.

Does this mean the end of the peace process ?

Peace talks were suspended earlier this month, just days after they officially began. Although UN envoy Staffan de Mistura insists they will restart, it is hard to see how they can make headway.

Military gains by government troops mean they have little incentive to come to the table, while many opposition figures suggested that the government was acting in bad faith, use talks to play for hour while pushing members of the military advantage.

What impact will this have on the refugee crisis in Europe ?

Around 100,000 people are believed to be gathered near the Turkish border, seeking to cross. At present, Ankara has ruled that out, but if already dire conditions degenerate, or there are attacks on camps inside the border, political pressure might force Turkey to open the border.

If that happens, some will probably attempt to travel to Europe, although after years inside Syria, few are likely to have the funds to pay for the trip.

What about Isis ?

Russia has said its attacks target terrorists, but in practice its bombing campaigns have focused far more closely on Assads diverse enemies than on Isis, which in some areas is fighting the regimes enemies.

Assad is unlikely to take on the group in any serious route until he has consolidated power in many other parts of the country, but he will not be allowed to put it off indefinitely. Emma Graham-Harrison

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