Beirut: The Syrian army on Tuesday accused rebels in besieged east Aleppo of possessing food stores and told them to distribute rations to alleviate shortages, one week into renewed air strikes and bombardment of the area.
The existence of such food stocks could not be verified. On Friday the United Nations said aid supplies had run out in east Aleppo. The UN has not been able to access the rebel-held sector since early July.
"The general command of the armed forces calls upon militants in the neighbourhoods of east Aleppo to open ration warehouses and distribute food to those that need it," an army statement said.
UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke told Reuters it was unclear whose warehouses the army was referring to.
Zakaria Malahifji, a politburo member of the Fastaqim rebel group which is active in Aleppo, said there were no warehouses full of food.
"People are searching for bread. (The army) is saying these things to appear like they care for people," Malahifji said.
Malahifji and another witness in Aleppo told Reuters that civilians protested last week outside a building said to belong to the city council for opposition-held Aleppo, thinking there were food stocks inside.
The city council could not immediately be reached for comment.
Around 250,000 people in Aleppo's opposition-controlled eastern neighbourhoods have been under effective siege since the army, aided by militias and Russian jets, cut off the last road into rebel districts in early July.
A renewed assault began last Tuesday after a weeks-long pause in air strikes and shelling inside east Aleppo, although battles and air strikes did continue along the city's front lines and in the surrounding countryside.
In another statement, the army told rebels to clear mines from crossings into the government-held western sector designated by the Syrian and Russian militaries as humanitarian corridors, and to let civilians who want to leave do so.
The siege and intense bombardment of east Aleppo have created a dire humanitarian crisis, aggravated by frequent air strikes on hospitals. Medicines, food and fuel are severely depleted.
All eight of east Aleppo's hospitals have either been put out of action or reduced to a barely functioning level in the past week, UN agencies have said.
"The situation in eastern Aleppo is really so horrendous, I mean it's beyond words... Despite the occasional let-up, overall the picture is horrendous," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said on Tuesday.
The Syrian government has said rebels are stopping residents from leaving. Rebel groups and residents of east Aleppo say people are scared to use the corridors for fear of snipers, bombs or arrest.
Many are also worried that if they leave they will never be allowed to return, so instead they want aid to be allowed in.
At least 141 civilians, including 18 children, have been killed over the past week of renewed bombardment on the eastern half of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
The Britain-based war monitor said it had documented hundreds of injuries as a result of Russian and Syrian air strikes and shelling by government forces and its allies on the besieged eastern half of the divided city.
The monitor said there were another 87 deaths of rebel fighters and people of unknown identity in the eastern sector.
The Observatory also documented 16 civilian deaths, including 10 children, and dozens of injuries as a result of rebel shelling of government-held west Aleppo.
"It's absolutely heart-breaking and unacceptable that we all are witnessing what is happening almost on direct television, directly transmitted, what may amount to war crimes in east Aleppo," Laerke said at a UN briefing on Tuesday.
The UN has been trying to get all parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian relief plan that allows medical workers, medical supplies and food into eastern Aleppo and enables the evacuation of the sick and wounded.
The UN has said rebel groups have agreed in principle to the plan, but it is still waiting for an official green light from Russia.
"We need the political actors and the military commanders on the ground to allow this plan to proceed," Laerke said.