Citing preliminary reports that that up to 16,000 people have fled fighting in the eastern neighbourhoods of Syria’s Aleppo city over the past few days, the United Nations humanitarian chief today warned that thousands more will have no choice but to flee should the attacks spread and escalate over the coming days.
“I am extremely concerned about the fate of civilians as a result of the deeply alarming and chilling situation unfolding in Aleppo city,” the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said in a statement.
Intensified ground fighting and indiscriminate aerial bombardment over the past few days in eastern Aleppo has reportedly killed and injured scores of civilians, he said.
“There are no functioning hospitals left, and official food stocks are practically finished in eastern Aleppo,” added Mr. O’Brien, who is also the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
At the same time, indiscriminate shelling continues on civilian-populated areas and civilian infrastructure in western Aleppo, killing and injuring civilians, and displacing over 20,000 people in recent weeks.
According to initial reports, up to 16,000 people have been displaced from eastern Aleppo, many into uncertain and precarious situations. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and local non-governmental organization (NGO) partners have initiated a response to those displaced.
UN humanitarian office expresses grave concerns over the "deeply alarming situation" in Aleppo, Syria…warns that thousands more civilians could go on to fall victim to the escalating conflict. Credit: UN News Centre
There are also hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside eastern Aleppo. The UN is present on the ground with prepositioned supplies to complement the ongoing response and ready to provide immediate assistance and medical evacuations for them.
“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,” Mr. O’Brien said.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), another 700,000 people are in other besieged areas across the country, mostly in rural Damascus surrounded by Government forces.
“I ask all parties to the conflict to restore basic humanity in Syria. 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,” he said, expressing hope that a path towards a political solution can be found soon for the many millions of Syrian families who tonight are hungry, sick, and fearing for their lives.
Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on all parties to the conflict to adhere to and respect international humanitarian law.
OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva that the Office had received reports that opposition groups are preventing civilians from leaving areas under their control.
“We call on armed opposition groups to adhere to their obligation to allow civilians who wish to flee areas under their control to do so. Any measures taken to prevent them from doing so – unless justified by a need to protect the safety of civilians – are prohibited under international law,” she said.
She also expressed concerns that upon reaching Government-controlled or Kurdish-controlled areas, civilians perceived to have links or connections with armed opposition groups may be detained. “Pro-Government and Kurdish Forces must ensure that civilians fleeing the fighting are afforded every protection and are not subjected to acts of retribution due to their perceived support or affiliation to opposition groups,” she stressed.