Amid the unprecedented military assault on eastern Aleppo, where fireballs from incendiary bombs “light up the pitch darkness,” the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria today strongly appealed to the Security Council – particularly permanent members Russia and the United States – to rescue a recently collapsed cessation of hostilities, end the bloodshed and speed aid into the iconic city where, overall, some two million people remain under a de facto siege.
“These are indeed chilling days for Syria and particularly, for the people of Aleppo, as last week was one of the worst in this six year of the conflict,” Staffan de Mistura told an emergency session of the Council called by France, the United Kingdom and the United States, echoing a statement issued by a UN spokesperson yesterday which said the Secretary-General is “appalled” by the escalating violence since the announcement two days ago by the Syrian Army of an offensive to capture eastern Aleppo.
Reporting that Aleppo is being reduced to rubble in the face of a “remarkable new intensity – unprecedented in scale and type of bombing,” Mr. de Mistura said “this Council has the responsibility to relaunch the cessation of hostilities” and reiterated his appeal for a common course of action, led by Russia and the UN, in three areas: ensuring a ceasefire; establishing weekly 48 hour pauses in the fighting to allow in aid and repairs for Aleppo's damaged water and power facilities; and allow medical evacuations for urgent cases in and around the city.
The respective taskforces on humanitarian aid delivery and a wider ceasefire, created by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), have been meeting separately since early this year on a way forward in the crisis. Russia and the United States are the co-chairs of the taskforces and ISSG, which comprises the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and 16 other countries.
'Fireballs of such intensity they light up the pitch darkness in eastern Aleppo'
“The one constant in this violently unpredictable conflict is that neither side will win, and that the Syrian people will lose, and they are losing their lives, day by day,” he told the Council as the announcement of a cessation of hostilities in early September, the already dire humanitarian situation in Aleppo has deteriorated even further since the Government decided to unilaterally end the truce and begin airstrikes.
Mr. de Mistura painted a grave picture of the situation on the ground, saying that information received by Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) indicates dozens of airstrikes on Friday and Saturday have hit residential buildings across the de facto besieged eastern Aleppo, causing scores of reported civilian deaths and injuries, including those of many children.
“First responders appear overwhelmed and unable to respond at many of the sites. We have seen reports of three of the four centres operated by the 'White Helmets' in eastern Aleppo being hit,” he said, adding that as the casualties mount, rescue workers are struggling to pull people from under the rubble.
He said airstrikes are reported to have killed 213 people in Aleppo province, 139 of them in eastern Aleppo. “We have heard the word 'unprecedented' – in quantity and also in scale and type – [to describe the] bombing. We have seen reports, videos and pictures of reported use of incendiary bombs that create fireballs of such intensity that they light up the pitch darkness in eastern Aleppo as if it is actually daylight,” said the Special Envoy.
A tiny window of opportunity still exists for Russia and the US to actually help the Syrians and the region step away from the brink
“We now hear of bunker-busting bombs being used and see pictures of large craters in the earth much larger than in previous aerial bombings,” he said, adding that the systematic indiscriminate use of such weapons in areas where civilians and civilian infrastructure are present is confirmed, it may amount to war crimes. He pointed out: “Sources on the ground tell us that they no longer have the capacity to count them accurately, given the chaos in Aleppo city, due to the fact they often take place at night and with remarkable new intensity.”
Despite the Syrian Government's reportedly stated desire to liberate “every inch” of Syria and “squeeze out terrorists without civilian casualties,” major military clashes are occurring on the front lines and there are contradicting statements from the opposition on whether the counter offenses were led by Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant or the Fatah Halab operations room of the Free Syrian Army, he said.
The so-called military victory or solution in Syria is impossible, including in Aleppo,” he said, warning that: “If the Syrian Government is intent on retaking it completely, it is going to be a slow, grinding, street-by-street fight over the course of months if not years, whereby the ancient city will be completely destroyed.”
“Neither side will win and therefore both will ultimately lose, and the Syrian people will lose,” he said, if the violence did not stop. There is an “illusion of imminent victory”, he continued, saying: “The so-called military victory or solution in Syria is impossible, including in Aleppo.”
Security Council must make 'eleventh hour' attempt to rescue cessation of hostilities
In forging the 9 September agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and United States Secretary of State John Kerry said they were concerned about making statements without follow up. “I want to believe that they really meant what they said and they really want it to work,” he said. But, the world and the Syrians are losing any remaining hope and the international community is losing credibility with its partners.
“A tiny window of opportunity still exists,” he said, for the Russian Federation and the US to actually help the Syrians and the region step away from the brink of more years of bloody conflict, which risks “becoming even worse.”
Recalling that China's Foreign Minister had said on Thursday that the Council had the responsibility to ensure the cessation of hostilities was re-launched, he said: “The conflict cannot be resolved through negotiations without the help of the co-chairs. I am asking and urging them to go that extra mile to save the 9 September agreement at the eleventh hour,” stressing the need to end terrorism in Syria and the region and to ground the Syrian air force.
He called for the Council to work out a common course of action towards a cessation of hostilities. “I'm still convinced that we can see a turn of events,” he said, underscoring that the international community has come too far to quit. He said he had been asked why he did not just resign, but he would not as doing so would be a signal that the UN abandoning the Syrians, and we will not abandon the Syrians, and neither will you,” he told the Council.