Civil­ians ‘killed on spot’ in Aleppo

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Syr­ian pro-gov­ern­ment forces have re­port­edly ex­e­cuted dozens of civil­ians in Aleppo in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, the UN said as the cru­cial bat­tle for the city neared its end. UN rights of­fice spokesman Ru­pert Colville said forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar AlAs­sad had in some cases en­tered homes and killed those in­side, and in oth­ers “caught and killed on the spot” flee­ing civil­ians. Fears have been growing for thou­sands of trapped civil­ians as rebels make a des­per­ate last stand in their re­main­ing pocket of ter­ri­tory in the for­mer op­po­si­tion strong­hold of east Aleppo.

Af­ter weeks of heavy fight­ing, regime forces were poised to take full con­trol of Aleppo, deal­ing the big­gest blow to Syria’s re­bel­lion in more than five years of civil war. Speak­ing to re­porters in Geneva, Colville said the UN had re­ceived cred­i­ble re­ports that at least 82 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 11 women and 13 chil­dren, had been killed in re­cent days. Colville said the UN was “filled with the deep­est fore­bod­ing for those who re­main in this last hellish cor­ner of op­po­si­tion­held eastern Aleppo.” Res­i­dents in re­main­ing re­bel­held ter­ri­tory told AFP they had no hope left.

“Our fate is sealed. Why would we hide, it won’t do us any good. We will ei­ther die or be cap­tured,” said Ibrahim Abu Al-Leith, a spokesman for the White Hel­mets res­cue ser­vice. Other wit­nesses de­scribed scenes of car­nage in rebel ar­eas, with bod­ies ly­ing amid the rub­ble of city streets, as des­per­ate res­i­dents

sat on pave­ments with nowhere to shelter. “There are dozens of bod­ies in the streets be­cause of the in­tense bom­bard­ment by regime forces,” Rami Ab­del Rah­man of the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights told AFP.

Ab­del Rah­man, whose Bri­tain-based group has for years mon­i­tored the con­flict in Syria, said he was un­able to con­firm the re­ports of civil­ians be­ing ex­e­cuted or other al­leged mas­sacres. But UN chief Ban Ki-moon had in a state­ment late Mon­day ex­pressed alarm “over re­ports of atroc­i­ties against a large num­ber of civil­ians, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren”. French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Marc Ayrault said there were wor­ry­ing re­ports from Aleppo of “cold-blooded killings of en­tire fam­i­lies”, “sum­mary ex­e­cu­tions, in­clud­ing of women and chil­dren” and “peo­ple burned alive in their homes”. “Such atroc­i­ties are un­con­scionable. Sup­port­ers of the regime, start­ing with Rus­sia, can­not let this hap­pen.”

Syria’s army has taken more than 90 per­cent of the ter­ri­tory once held by rebels in east Aleppo, af­ter launch­ing an all-out of­fen­sive last month to seize con­trol of the en­tire city. Aleppo, a cul­tural and eco­nomic hub in north­ern Syria sec­ond only to Da­m­as­cus in im­por­tance, had been split be­tween a rebel-con­trolled east and gov­ern­ment-held west since 2012. Re­cap­tur­ing all of Aleppo will be a huge vic­tory for As­sad and leave his regime in con­trol of all five of Syria’s main ci­ties.

As of early yes­ter­day, rebel fight­ers were re­ported to be con­fined to just a hand­ful of neigh­bor­hoods, in­clud­ing Mash­had and part of Sukkari. “We’re liv­ing the fi­nal mo­ments be­fore vic­tory,” a Syr­ian mil­i­tary source told AFP. It was un­clear how many civil­ians re­mained in rebel ter­ri­tory, af­ter an es­ti­mated 130,000 fled to other parts of Aleppo dur­ing the gov­ern­ment ad­vance.

Jan Ege­land, head of the UN-backed hu­man­i­tar­ian task­force for Syria, told AFP that thou­sands of civil­ians were in need of evac­u­a­tion and safe pas­sage, in­clud­ing hun­dreds of wounded. “Our ap­peal to Rus­sia and to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment is very clear: We need a pause in the fight­ing but we also need to get the peo­ple in­side to help or­ga­nize an evac­u­a­tion,” he said. The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross said there was only a “last chance to save lives” in Aleppo. “As the bat­tle reaches new peaks and the area is plunged into chaos, thou­sands with no part in the vi­o­lence have lit­er­ally nowhere safe to run,” it said.

The gov­ern­ment as­sault has been backed by heavy ar­tillery fire and air strikes, with at least 463 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 62 chil­dren, killed in east Aleppo since midNovem­ber, ac­cord­ing to the Ob­ser­va­tory. An­other 130 peo­ple in­clud­ing 40 chil­dren have been killed in western districts by rebel rocket fire. Diplo­matic ef­forts to end the con­flict have re­peat­edly failed, and week­end talks be­tween Rus­sia and the United States on a cease­fire to al­low the evac­u­a­tion of civil­ians made no break­through. Moscow is a key As­sad ally and launched an air war in sup­port of his forces last year, while Wash­ing­ton and other Western na­tions have backed the op­po­si­tion.

Turkey, which has also sup­ported rebel forces in Syria, said yes­ter­day it would in­ten­sify talks with Rus­sia on a cease­fire. “Today, to­mor­row, every­day, we will in­ten­sify our talks with Rus­sia and other coun­tries so we can find a so­lu­tion to this hu­man­i­tar­ian tragedy,” Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said. “Our ef­forts con­tinue in par­tic­u­lar for civil­ians to be able to leave and for a cease­fire.” More than 310,000 peo­ple have been killed since the Syr­ian con­flict be­gan in March 2011, and over half the pop­u­la­tion has been dis­placed, with mil­lions be­com­ing refugees.

A rebel of­fi­cial told AFP later yes­ter­day an agree­ment for the im­mi­nent evac­u­a­tion of civil­ians and op­po­si­tion fight­ers from east Aleppo in Syria has been reached. “An agree­ment has been reached for the evac­u­a­tion of the res­i­dents of Aleppo, civil­ians and fight­ers with their light weapons, from the be­sieged districts of east Aleppo,” said Yasser Al-Youssef from the po­lit­i­cal of­fice of the key Nurredin Al-Zinki group. He said the deal was “spon­sored by Rus­sia and Turkey” and would be im­ple­mented “within hours”. — Agen­cies

ALEPPO: Syr­ian pro-regime fight­ers ges­ture in the Far­dos neigh­bor­hood as they drive past res­i­dents flee­ing vi­o­lence in the restive Bus­tan Al-Qasr neigh­bor­hood yes­ter­day, af­ter regime troops re­took the area from rebel fight­ers. — AFP

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