Stephen O’Brien told an emergency session of the UN security council that since Saturday 25,000 people had been forced from their homes in eastern Aleppo, more than half of them children, as the government offensive stormed into opposition districts.
The council sat as what is left of the rebel enclave came under another day of intense bombing, with video footage showing the bodies of dead children being carried off the streets. The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said nearly 40% of the opposition area had been captured by government forces, cutting the enclave in two.
O’Brien said that those trying to flee the fighting faced new dangers, as rebel factions sought to stop them leaving, or they were caught in the crossfire and then faced being seized and “disappeared” at government checkpoints.
“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 Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN, pointed to UN figures that a million people are now living under siege across Syria, half of them children.
“Russia has vetoed time and again to prevent the security council from finding the unity necessary to end this war. And so I ask again Mr President, what will it take?” he said.
“Without a change in policy, without a change of heart, that’s exactly what this is – the slow, painful, bitter execution of a million Syrians, cut off from aid convoys, cut off from the world,” he said.
The French envoy, François Delattre, said the crushing of eastern Aleppo was not just a humanitarian calamity but also a strategic mistake.
“What is happening in Aleppo will only fuel chaos and terrorism. Not only is it not a way in our view to combat terrorism, but it is a mechanic way, automatic way, to fuel radicalisation and terrorism,” Delattre said.
Unicef’s regional director, Geert Cappelaere, said six million children in Syria were in need of humanitarian assistance, of which, two million were in hard-to-reach areas and 500,000 were living under siege.
“Some of these children have been living under siege for two years,” Cappelaere said.graveyard,” O’Brien said.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, rejected calls for an end to the offensive, which is being spearheaded on the ground by Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian-led units, with Russian air support.
Churkin said Russia shared concern for the fate of the civilian population but argued their plight would not be eased by ceasing “counter-terrorist operations” against “bandits” that the UK and France had “coddled and fuelled”. He called the White Helmet civil defence organisation, which digs people out of bombed buildings, a “pseudo-humanitarian” group, and said UN resolutions calling for an end to the bloodshed were “a pointless tactic”.
“I would like us all to pause for a moment and imagine life through the eyes of a child trapped in that tragic situation. As a boy or girl in Aleppo today, where do you find comfort and hope, amidst the bombs?” he asked the council. “Determined to learn, you attend school whenever your parents allow you to leave the house, but you do not know any more if you will ever come back. It is hard for you as a child to focus because it is cold and you don’t sleep well, haunted by nightmares and hunger.”
O’Brien raised the alarm over the plight of civilians forced out of eastern Aleppo by the fighting, who first had to cross frontlines and then brave government checkpoints.
“As we have seen before, across Syria and throughout the conflict, men, women and children, have been routinely arrested at government-controlled checkpoints, before being transferred to one of dozens of official or secret government-run detention facilities,” he said. “They are often held incommunicado and indefinitely, facing the risk of being subjected to torture and ill-treatment, extrajudicial killings or being disappeared.”
Author: Julian Borger