UN: Lack of food ‘re­ally dire’

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GENEVA: Up to 20,000 peo­ple have fled a Syr­ian regime’s of­fen­sive in op­po­si­tion-held eastern Aleppo in the last 48 hours, the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross said Tues­day.

A spokes­woman for the Genev­abased ICRC, Krista Arm­strong, told AFP that the 20,000 fig­ure was an es­ti­mate and that the sit­u­a­tion re­mained fluid, stress­ing that “peo­ple are flee­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions,” des­per­ately seek­ing refuge from the bru­tal fight­ing. Ter­ri­fied civil­ians have fled empty-handed into re­main­ing op­po­si­tion-held ter­ri­tory, or crossed into regime-seized western Aleppo or Kur­dish dis­tricts.

The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture rebel-held parts of Aleppo has sparked in­ter­na­tional alarm.

France called for an im­me­di­ate UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ses­sion on the fight­ing, which has seen the army cap­ture a third of op­po­si­tion-con­trolled east Aleppo in re­cent days.

The UN hu­man­i­tar­ian chief Stephen O’Brien had ear­lier put the num­ber of dis­placed from eastern Aleppo at 16,000, de­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion as “chill­ing.”

“The in­ten­sity of at­tacks on eastern Aleppo neigh­bor­hoods over the past few days has forced thousands of civil­ians to flee to other parts of the city,” O’Brien said in a state­ment.

“It is likely that thousands more will have no choice but to flee should fight­ing con­tinue to spread and in­ten­sify over the com­ing days,” he warned.

His com­ments came as the regime forces ad­vanced deep in­side the long­time op­po­si­tion strong­hold of east Aleppo, tak­ing sev­eral neigh­bor­hoods in an on­slaught to re­cap­ture the en­tire city.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN hu­man­i­tar­ian agency, told reporters in Geneva Tues­day that a full 10,000 of those flee­ing the in­tense bat­tles in eastern Aleppo have gone to dis­tricts held by the regime in the west of the city.

As many as 6,000 oth­ers had headed to the Kur­dish-held Sheikh Maq­sud neigh­bor­hood, he said. O’Brien voiced con­cern over the “deeply alarm­ing and chill­ing situa- tion un­fold­ing” across all of Aleppo.

“The par­ties to the con­flict in Syria have shown time and again that they are will­ing to take any ac­tion to se­cure mil­i­tary ad­van­tage even if it means killing, maim­ing or starv­ing civil­ians into sub­mis­sion in the process,” he said.

The sit­u­a­tion in eastern Aleppo is dire, with in­ten­si­fied ground fight­ing and in­dis­crim­i­nate aerial bom­bard­ment re­port­edly killing and in­jur­ing many civil­ians, he said.

“There are no func­tion­ing hos­pi­tals left, and of­fi­cial food stocks are prac­ti­cally fin­ished.”

At the same time, in­dis­crim­i­nate shelling on regime-con­trolled western Aleppo has killed and in­jured civil­ians and has dis­placed more than 20,000 peo­ple in re­cent weeks, O’Brien said.

The World Food Pro­gramme’s last ware­housed stocks in eastern Aleppo, where some 250,000 civil­ians have been be­sieged for months, were dis­trib­uted on Nov. 13, spokes­woman Bet­tina Luescher told reporters. The lack of food is “re­ally dire,” she said, warn­ing that the peo­ple stuck in the east were in a “slow-mo­tion des­cent into hell.”

The UN hu­man rights of­fice mean­while voiced alarm at the dan­gers fac­ing those at­tempt­ing to flee the fight­ing. “Adding to the dan­gers as­so­ci­ated with at­tempt­ing to flee across an ac­tive front-line, we have re­ceived re­ports that op­po­si­tion groups are pre­vent­ing civil­ians from leav­ing ar­eas un­der their con­trol,” spokes­woman Rav­ina Sham­dasani said.

She also voiced con­cern that civil­ians be­lieved to have links to armed op­po­si­tion groups could be de­tained once they reach gov­ern- ment or Kur­dish-con­trolled ar­eas. She warned that the use of the “ter­ror­ist” la­bel “has in the past been used to pun­ish peace­ful ac­tivists and fam­ily mem­bers.”

Syr­ian fam­i­lies, flee­ing from eastern dis­tricts of Aleppo, carry their be­long­ings as they walk to­ward the regime-con­trolled western part of the city. (AFP)

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