Syria war: 16,000 displaced from devastated eastern Aleppo, UN says

Damaged house from guns and the bomb.

Damaged house from guns and the bomb.

ALEPPO — Up to 16,000 people have fled the violence in Syria’s war-ravaged eastern Aleppo, with food stocks “practically finished” and every hospital bombed beyond use, the UN’s humanitarian chief said Tuesday.

But nearly 200,000 people are believed to be still in the enclave, as the Syrian regime pounds it with airstrikes and Syrian troops storm through it in an operation to retake eastern Aleppo after more than four years of rebel control.

“I am extremely concerned about the fate of civilians as a result of the deeply alarming and chilling situation unfolding in Aleppo city,” UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said in a statement.

“Initial reports indicate that up to 16,000 people have been displaced, many into uncertain and precarious situations. It is likely that thousands more will have no choice but to flee should fighting continue to spread and intensify over the coming days.”

Government forces and armed paramilitary groups loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a renewed push toward eastern Aleppo on November 15, as regime warplanes continued to pound the area to flush out rebels and civilians.

They have made rapid territorial gains since entering eastern Aleppo on ground Saturday, taking a huge portion of the northeast. Russian media on Monday cited its defense ministry, saying 40% of the east was now in regime hands, however CNN sources put the figure at just over 20%. Their gains drive a wedge through the zone and splits it into two sections.

Rescuers debilitated

An activist from the Aleppo Media Center said at least 25 people had been killed and many more injured overnight as the regime dropped parachute bombs in the Bab al-Nayreb neighborhood.

Residents in several other areas under heavy bombardment Tuesday told CNN that the ambulances and rescuers that usually come after the strikes were nowhere to be seen.

The self-styled Syria Civil Defense, a volunteer rescue group also known as the White Helmets, put out a desperate video message Monday, saying that it lacked the resources to carry out rescues at full capacity.

“Unfortunately, we can’t do our duty due to the lack of fuel,” White Helmets member Bebars Meshaal told CNN.

Among those affected in the days of strikes is 7-year-old Bana Alabed, who has captured international attention with her tweets about daily life in eastern Aleppo. On Tuesday she shared a picture of her damaged home, posting that she felt “sad but happy to be alive,” following a flurry of tweets in recent days recording heavy bombardment on her house.

More than 200,000 people are thought to still be in eastern Aleppo, many of them trapped. Before the evacuations in recent days, UNICEF said there were around 100,000 children there.

“There are no modes of transportation and no vehicles in the streets, so civilians are fleeing and walking close to 8 or 9 kilometers on foot, carrying what they can and their children, and fleeing towards the western parts of Aleppo,” the activist told CNN.

The last UN rations in Aleppo were distributed on November 13, and UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland warned last week that people in the area were on the brink of starvation.

‘Restore basic humanity’

Eastern Aleppo has become the epicenter of Syria’s civil war, much of it decimated in regime strikes backed by Russian air power.

Assad has vowed to take the whole of Aleppo, which has for years been divided between the largely regime-held west and rebel-held east.

The government has besieged the east a number of times, cutting off both the rebels and civilians from the outside world, leaving communities on the brink of starvation — without sufficient food, clean water, fuel and medical supplies.

“I ask all parties to the conflict to restore basic humanity in Syria,” the UN’s O’Brien said.

“I call on them to lift sieges, ensure that they do not target civilians and civilian infrastructure, and that they allow humanitarian organizations safe and unimpeded access to bring life-saving help to those displaced or under siege.”

Many people remaining in the eastern part of the city have been too afraid to use the government’s “human corridors,” fearing reprisal once they escape. Others say the rebels forced them to stay.

Beginning of the end?

Taking all of Aleppo would mark a turning point in the Syrian war — the city is the last urban rebel stronghold in the country. Seizing it would put the regime back in control of all four major cities.

Some observers have suggested it would be the beginning of the end of the uprising that began in 2011.

A solution to the war has evaded the international community for years. Russia and the US have both been drawn in, often standing on opposing sides of the conflict.

Russia has used its veto power in the UN Security Council several times to shoot down proposed resolutions on the conflict.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called on the Security Council to immediately meet and examine the situation.

“More than ever, there is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance,” Ayrault said in a statement, adding he would meet with the head of Aleppo’s district councils, Brita Hagi Hasan, on Wednesday in Paris.

O’Brien also called for a political solution, saying that “the people of Syria have suffered far too much and for far too long.”

“More than anything, I hope a path towards a political solution can be found soon so that we can give some semblance of hope to the many millions of Syrian families who tonight are hungry, sick, and fearing for their lives,” he said.