UN condemns ‘descent into hell’ as civilians flee
THE UN has condemned the “descent into hell” being endured by civilians in Aleppo, with the Red Cross saying nearly 20,000 people have fled a Syrian government offensive on the city in three days.
The fighting has prompted an exodus of terrified civilians, many fleeing empty-handed into remaining rebel-held territory, or crossing into government-controlled west Aleppo or Kurdish districts.
Up to 20,000 people have fled the regime offensive in the past 72 hours, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, adding the figure was an estimate and the situation remained fluid as “people are fleeing in different directions”.
East Aleppo has been under siege for more than four months, with international aid stocks exhausted and food supplies running low.
World Food Program spokesperson Bettina Luescher said civilians were enduring a “slow motion descent into hell”.
The French UN ambassador Francois Delattre said, “France and its partners cannot remain silent in the face of what could be one of the biggest massacres of civilian population since World War II”.
Government forces have advanced swiftly in their two-week operation, capturing all of the city’s northeast in a major blow to the opposition.
The loss of their east Aleppo stronghold would be the worst defeat for rebels since Syria’s conflict erupted more than five years ago.
The opposition has steadily lost territory in recent months to government forces bolstered by the Russian military since September 2015.
Moscow says it is not involved in the Aleppo offensive, but a Russian defence ministry spokesperson said Syrian government forces had seized “nearly half the territory occupied by rebels in east Aleppo in recent years”.
“The operations of the Syrian army have radically changed the situation over the past 24 hours,” said General Igor Konashenkov.
Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed his government to set up mobile field hospitals around Aleppo, the Kremlin said.
More than 250 civilians have been killed in the assault on east Aleppo since November 15, including nearly 30 children, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Save the Children warned the assault was separating families and leaving thousands, including children, homeless and at risk.
On the ground, residents expressed despair and uncertainty for the future, after months of food shortages and heavy bombardment.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 300,000 people so far.
The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting late yesterday in New York to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. –