Emergency UN talks on Aleppo

A woman and children leave an area of eastern Aleppo after bombardment by government forces. Picture: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A woman and children leave an area of eastern Aleppo after bombardment by government forces. Picture: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Thousands of terrified citizens flee city ahead of assault by government forces

More than 50 000 Syrians have joined a growing exodus of terrified civilians from east Aleppo, as the UN Security Council was set for emergency talks on fighting in the city.

As government forces pressed an assault in the divided city, regime artillery fire had killed at least 21 civilians in east Aleppo yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Civilians have poured out of the rebel-held east in recent days, with parents carrying children and the young pushing the old in wheelchairs or make shift carts as they flee.

Some have arrived in government-held or Kurdish-controlled territory with overstuffed suitcases and bags of their possessions, but others have come empty-handed, with only the clothes on their backs.

Government forces and allied fighters have seized a third of the rebel-held east of Aleppo since they began an operation to recapture all of the battered second city just over a fortnight ago.

The loss of Aleppo would be the biggest blow for Syria’s opposition since the conflict began in March 2011.

The UN has for months sought access to the east, and earlier this month presented a plan to deliver aid and evacuate wounded and sick civilians.

But it has failed to secure agreement from the government, even as the army’s siege has led to dwindling food supplies and the exhaustion of international aid provisions in the east.

The UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting later yesterday on the situation, receiving a briefing from a UN humanitarian official and the UN’s peace envoy, Staff an de Mistura.

Syria’s opposition National Coalition said it was working with France on a draft UN resolution seeking an immediate cease fire in Aleppo, though Russia, a staunch ally of Damascus, was likely to veto such a proposal.

As the government advanced, more than 50 000 people had left rebel-held districts, the Observatory said yesterday.

It said more than 20 000 people had fled to government-held neighbourhoods, with a further 30 000 going to Kurdish-controlled districts.

Many others have travelled south into the remaining territory held rebels.

“The situation of those fleeing is desperate,” Pawel Krzysiek, head of communications for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria, said.

“I can only imagine how difficult the situation must be for people who fled into the places where aid workers and supplies are not or scarcely available.”

The government’s advance on the ground has been accompanied by heavy bombardment, with air strikes, barrel bomb attacks and artillery fire pounding rebel-held neighbourhoods.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said civilians in eastern Aleppo faced a nightmare which clearly violated the most basic norms of human rights and any shred of human decency.

“Pounded by accelerating bombardment, deliberately deprived  of food and medical care, many of them report that they are simply waiting for death,” he said.

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