Aleppo’s agony intensifies as world looks away

Inside rubble-filled, body-strewn streets of eastern Aleppo, conditions are worsening as regime forces advance.

Endless exodus of demor­alised refugees 'is very chaotic'

2016/12/04 Issue: 84 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut - A humanitarian catas­trophe is unfolding in Aleppo as an estimated 250,000 civilians are trapped in the rebel-held east of the Syrian city under relent­less air bombardment by Russian and Syrian warplanes.

Their plight, worsened by the on­set of colder weather, has largely been ignored by the United Nations and the major powers while inter­national aid organisations struggle to assist tens of thousands of refu­gees who have managed to flee the city.

Inside the rubble-filled, body-strewn streets of eastern Aleppo, conditions are worsening by the day as regime forces advance. Pro-gov­ernment forces have retaken 40% of the area that the rebels held in the city since mid-2012 and have split it in two, leaving about 8,000 rebel fighters exposed.

“The situation inside the be­sieged area is very bad,” Abdel Rah­man Hassan, a member of the vol­unteer Syrian civil defence group known as the White Helmets said by telephone from eastern Aleppo.

“There’s no food, no medical supplies and no functioning hos­pitals. Population density is higher because many people had fled the districts recaptured by the regime forces and moved to ‘safer’ neigh­bourhoods inside the besieged area,” he said.

“The bombardment and air strikes are causing massacres with a large number of casualties because civilians are now concentrated in larger numbers in a small area… The very few doctors who’re still functioning in east Aleppo have set up basic clinics in vaults and base­ments, but there’s no more dispen­saries or hospitals to carry out sur­geries,” Hassan said.

Russian forces have used bunker-buster bombs, designed to destroy heavily fortified underground mili­tary facilities, to knock out subter­ranean medical centres and civilian shelters.

The 30 doctors believed to still be in the rebel sector are said to be low on antibiotics, IV fluids and blood supplies.

Pawel Krzysiek, Damascus-based head of communications for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria, said an esti­mated 20,000 civilians had fled the besieged sector to shelters in the government-held western zone in recent days.

This endless exodus of demor­alised, shell-shocked refugees “is very chaotic”, he said. “People ar­rive by the hour with very little or no belongings at all. They’re injured or sick. Men, women, children, el­derly, injured and disabled people in wheelchairs, mothers with in­fants… They’re terrified because they had to escape amid intense clashes.

“It’s very cold and it’s raining but the shelters don’t have electricity,” Krzysiek said. “The need is over­whelming.”

Still, the regime siege goes on. The United States, which backs Syr­ian rebel groups, has made no effort to intervene, in part because of the political uncertainty that will last until Donald Trump becomes US president in January.

Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad are clearly exploiting the situation to score a major vic­tory in Aleppo and strengthen their position in any peace negotiations.

UN Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has tried but failed to se­cure a deal to end the bloodbath. In October, Russia vetoed a UN reso­lution that had demanded a halt to the bombardment.

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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