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Besieged Aleppo on Road to Becoming 'One Giant Graveyard,' UN Official Warns

People flee rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo into the Sheikh Maqsoud area that is controlled by Kurdish fighters on Nov. 27, 2016. (The Rumaf via AP)

A UN official pleaded with anyone who can help to stop Syrian and Russian bombardments from turning the besieged city of Aleppo into nothing but a “graveyard.”

Aleppo, which was Syria’s largest city before the battle between Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the Syrian opposition began years ago, has shown that “there are no limits or red lines left to cross,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called by France on Wednesday.

“Our calls, and the requests, even the demands, of this council, have largely gone ignored,” he said. “The parties to the conflict in Syria have shown time and again that they are willing to take any action or do any deed to secure military advantage even if it means killing, maiming or besieging civilians into submission in the process.”

With bombs and mortars “raining down” on “civilian areas, residential houses, schools, medical facilities, water and electricity stations, and public markets,” Aleppo “has become the apex of what has become a catalogue of horrors in Syria,” O’Brien said. “Its people have been living in a long terrifying nightmare reality which no human being should have to endure.”

“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. They are often held incommunicado and indefinitely, facing the risk of being subjected to torture and ill-treatment, extra-judicial killings or being disappeared.”

O’Brien said the approximately 200,000 remaining civilians in eastern Aleppo, under siege for 150 days now, “simply don’t have the means to survive for much longer.”

“Access to clean water is scarce. People have resorted to scavenging as UN humanitarian food stocks have been exhausted, while prices of scarce basic food and fuel supplies have dramatically risen to levels that most remaining civilians are unable to afford. People are trapped and terrified. They are running out of time,” he said.

“…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.”

Outside of Aleppo, such as rural areas near Damascus, another 700,000 civilians are under siege by government forces. “They are trapped, they are petrified — winter is approaching and they are watching the chilling events in Aleppo unfold and asking: will I be next?” O’Brien continued. “It may be too late for many of the people of eastern Aleppo, but surely this council can come together, stop the brutality and also prevent a similar fate befalling other Syrians.”

What is needed immediately, the under-secretary said, is “real respect and protection of civilians,” plus “safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access and an end to brutal sieges once and for all.”

“These are neither new nor complicated demands, but common threads of humanity that we all have a responsibility to rally around. And 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. “And I should add what I am often asked: why on earth can’t the Security Council come together and stop the suffering of the people in Syria? The people of Syria have suffered far too much and for far too long.”

In remarks before the council, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power noted that the Red Cross called the exodus of 20,000 people in four days from Aleppo a “death trip.”

“One fleeing woman was seen pushing along a wheelchair with her dead mother in it. She told a reporter, ‘My mother died of hunger,’ and said that they had almost nothing to eat for five months,” Power said.

During breaks in bombing, Assad’s forces are dropping leaflets that say: “Don’t be dumb, think about yourselves and your families. Victory is coming for the Syrian Arab Army, think quickly because time is passing and it’s not on your side.”

“I would ask council members and all citizens of the world to just force yourself to a take a break from your day and watch the images from eastern Aleppo. Parents cradling their children in agony, civilians on foot mowed down literally carrying their suitcases, which then lay beside their lifeless bodies. You will likely hear from the representatives of Syria and the Russian Federation today that these images are made up, that they are propaganda. This has been an argument we’ve been hearing at the last few sessions,” Power said.

“Now, I have to acknowledge that both the Syrian government and the Russian government have significant expertise in making things up. They are great authorities, in general, on propaganda. But we have to recognize they have an interest in trying to create a post-truth world, where all facts are contested. Where there is no truth, just one man’s claim or one country’s claim or one party’s claim against another. Syria and Russia, as they lie and as they kill civilians in Syria, count on there being no referee; no referee who will adjudicate facts – truth – on the one hand, from lies and falsehoods and fiction on the other. That is their gamble. But we have referees.”

Power said repeated demands for Assad and Russia to allow humanitarian access to areas under siege and to “stop systematically bombing the city’s hospitals, schools, markets, and the bases of the first responders” are appeals that the Security Council “should not ever have to request.”

“Yet here we are, urging two Member States of the United Nations – one of which holds a permanent seat on this Council – to abide by these basic standards, to stop ripping up the rule books, which is going to have effects way beyond Syria, for our children and our grandchildren,” she said.

Power panned the regime and Russia’s promise of “safe routes” for fleeing civilians as propaganda to paint “regime forces as liberators.”

“The reason people are fleeing by the thousands is not because they trust a regime that has killed hundreds of thousands of its own people, and systematically tortured tens of thousands more Syrians in its gulags, tagging the bodies of those it kills with serial numbers. No. It is because they know there is a good chance they will be pulverized if they stay where they are.”