Syria: UN humanitarian chief urges avoidance of civilian casualties in Aleppo fighting

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos.
UN Photo/Mark Garten
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos.

Syria: UN humanitarian chief urges avoidance of civilian casualties in Aleppo fighting

Amidst reports of heavy fighting in the city of Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, the United Nations top humanitarian official today urged all parties in the Middle Eastern country to avoid civilian casualties and allow humanitarian access to people caught up in the violence.

“I am extremely concerned by the impact of shelling and use of tanks and other heavy weapons on people in Aleppo, Syria's most populous city, as well as in the capital Damascus and surrounding towns,” the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said in a news release.

“I call on all parties to the fighting to ensure that they do not target civilians and that they allow humanitarian organizations safe access to bring urgent and life-saving help to people caught up in the fighting,' she added.

According to media reports, Aleppo has been the centre of intense combat between Government and opposition forces over recent days. Syria has been wracked by violence, with more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago. In addition to Aleppo, there have been reports of an escalation in violence in many towns and villages, as well as Damascus.

In her statement, Ms. Amos noted that the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent estimate that some 200,000 people have fled fighting in Aleppo and surrounding areas over the last two days.

“It is not known how many people remain trapped in places where fighting continues today,” Ms. Amos said. “Many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer areas. They urgently need food, mattresses and blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water.”

The humanitarian official said that the security situation in cities and along main transport routes has made it very difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach displaced families in Aleppo, Hama and other areas.

“Despite the very dangerous situation, the Red Crescent, UN agencies and partners have continued to deliver food, blankets and hygiene kits whenever and wherever they can, and are dispatching thousands more items” Ms. Amos said.

Also over the weekend, the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan, expressed his concern over reports of the concentration of troops and heavy weapons around Aleppo.

“I remind the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law, and urge them to exercise restraint and avoid any further bloodshed,” Mr. Annan said in a statement issued on Saturday.

“I believe that the escalation of the military build-up in Aleppo and the surrounding area is further evidence of the need for the international community to come together to persuade the parties that only a political transition, leading to a political settlement will resolve this crisis and bring peace to the Syrian people,” he added.

On Friday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Navi Pillay, expressed “deep alarm” over the increased threat to civilians in Syria, and urged the country's Government and armed opposition to protect civilians and abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law – or face the consequences.

“Civilians and civilian objects – including homes and other property, businesses, schools and places of worship – must be protected at all times. All parties, including the Government and opposition forces, must ensure that they distinguish between civilian and military targets,” she added, while also expressing particular concern about the likelihood of a major confrontation in Aleppo.