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UN: Aleppo risks becoming ‘one giant graveyard’

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on the dire humanitarian crisis unfolding in Aleppo

Published: Updated:

A top UN envoy on Wednesday pleaded with the Security Council to help break the siege of Aleppo, warning that residents of the Syrian city were at risk of extermination.

“For the sake of humanity we call on -- we plead -- with the parties and those with influence to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard,” said Stephen O’Brien, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

O’Brien, speaking to a special Security Council session by video-link from London, said that the clock was ticking on the city as the winter set in.

Residents have been reduced to scavenging for food, hospitals are not functioning after repeated military strikes and an estimated 25,000 people have fled eastern Aleppo since Saturday alone, O'Brien said.

O’Brien said that aid convoys were ready to roll in from Turkey and western Aleppo but that they needed an end to the siege and protection for civilians.

“These are neither new nor complicated demands -- those common threads of humanity that we all have a responsibility to rally around,” he said.

“Those parties that can’t or won’t live up to their basic obligations should know that they will one day be held accountable for their actions,” he said.

The eastern part of Aleppo has been a key rebel stronghold since 2012, with government forces determined to wrest control.

More than 250,000 people had been living in the eastern neighborhoods when the government laid siege four months ago.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has enjoyed diplomatic support from Russia, which has also intervened militarily to boost the campaign for Aleppo.

O’Brien said he faced the persistent question as he traveled -- “Why on Earth can the Security Council not come together to unite to put a stop to this suffering?”

“The people of Syria have suffered far too much for far too long,” he said.
He urged the Security Council not to lose sight of another 700,000 people besieged in other areas, notably around Damascus.

Syrian opposition calls on UN

Meanwhile, a leading Syrian opposition body on Wednesday demanded the United Nations act immediately to protect residents of Aleppo, battered by advancing regime forces.

The opposition National Coalition urged the UN Security Council in a letter to “take immediate, definitive steps to protect civilians in Aleppo and stop the barbaric offensive against them.”

Syrian regime forces are pressing a major assault in the divided city, seeking to recapture eastern districts that have served as a key rebel stronghold since 2012.

Tens of thousands of residents have poured out of the rebel-held east to areas controlled by the government or local Kurdish authorities.

More than 250,000 people had been living in the eastern neighborhoods under a four-month government siege.

“The regime of (Bashar al-) Assad and its allies have turned the liberated areas of Aleppo into a coffin,” National Coalition chief Anas al-Abdeh wrote in the letter.

“This escalation is a war crime and a crime against humanity, another item on the Assad regime’s long, bloody, barbaric list,” Abdeh said.

Regime forces and allied fighters have seized a third of the rebel-held east of Aleppo since they began an operation to recapture all of the battered second city just over a fortnight ago.

They now fully control the city’s northeast and pressed their offensive Wednesday on Aleppo’s southeastern edges, advancing in the Sheikh Saeed district, according to state news agency SANA.

The loss of Aleppo would be the biggest blow for Syria’s opposition since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, before spiraling into a civil war.