East Aleppo catastrophe is unprecedented in Syrian war, says UN aid chief
NEW YORK // The United Nations aid chief said east Aleppo had descended into a humanitarian catastrophe unlike any seen so far in five years of brutal war in Syria.
“Let me be clear: east Aleppo this minute is not at the edge of the precipice,” Stephen O’Brien, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs told the Security Council. “It is well into its terrible descent into the pitiless and merciless abyss of a humanitarian catastrophe unlike any we have witnessed in Syria.”
The number of people killed since September 22, when the supposed ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia broke down, stands at 320 civilians, of which 100 were children. The number of people living under siege in Syria has now grown from 586,200 to 861,200. More than 100,000 children are trapped in east Aleppo alone, which is held by rebels opposed to the regime of Bashar Al Assad. The failure of all diplomatic efforts at the UN general assembly last week had only increased the brutality on the ground.
Speaking via video link from Geneva, Mr O’Brien said it was time to “place the blame ” and he did so – on some of those sitting in the very security council meeting he was addressing. He also warned that evidence was being collected of the atrocities being committed in Aleppo so that “one day there will be no hiding place” for those perpetrating war crimes.
Making an impassioned appeal for action, Mr O’Brien added, “This revolting situation in Aleppo must, please, be the SOS, the May Day call, to the international community. Syria is bleeding. Its citizens are dying. We all hear their cry for help.”
He also warned The top UN aid official warned that evidence was being collected of the atrocities happening in Aleppo so that “one day there will be no hiding place” for those perpetrating war crimes.
US Ambassador Samantha Power described the escalation as “the most savage week we’ve seen in an incredibly savage five-plus-year war,” with more than 1,000 people killed by 1,700 air strikes on east Aleppo alone.
Ms Power described the latest offensive as “soul-shattering” and accused Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of “unleashing a savagery” against civilians.
“We’re at a turning point,” she said.
The council was meeting to discuss the crisis in Syria as France said it would “spare no effort ” to push for a UN resolution imposing a ceasefire in Aleppo, which has been under ferocious bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes for a week.
However any such resolution would probably be blocked by Russia’s power of veto, as Moscow remains more intent on taking offence rather than taking action. On Thursday, defence ministry spokesman Maj-Gen Igor Konashenkov accused Washington outright of supporting terrorist groups in Syria. His comments were a response to US state department spokesman John Kirby who warned that the collapse of US.-Russian cooperation in Syria could lead to a rise in extremism and potential attacks against Russia, as extremists rushed to exploit the vacuum.
Maj-Gen Konashenkov said this was proof of American’s complicity in global terrorism. “His words are the most frank confession by the US. side so far that the whole ‘opposition’ ostensibly fighting a civil war in Syria is a US.-controlled international terrorist alliance, ” he said in a statement. “What makes Kirby’s statement particularly shocking is that the scale of direct US. influence on terrorists’ activity is global, and that it reaches as far as Russia. We are fully ready to continue the dialogue with America and elaborate joint measures of fighting terrorists in Syria. However, this dialogue must exclude even a hint of a threat to our military and Russian citizens,” he said.
But as the day wore on, hopes of resuming any dialogue faded as US secretary of state John Kerry warned that America was on the brink of pulling out.
“I think we are on the verge of suspending the discussion because, you know, it’s irrational in the context of the kind of bombing taking place, to be sitting there, trying to take things seriously,” he said, speaking at as conference in Washington. “There is no notion or indication of seriousness of purpose with what is taking place right now.”
Instead, the US, would pursue other alternatives, “barring some clear indication by the warring parties that they are prepared to consider how to approach this more effectively.”
Of that too, there seemed little hope as Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would press on with its bombing campaign in Syria. On Thursday, bomb destroyed the last remaining bakery serving he remaining 2,000 citizens of Anadan, a town on the northern fringes of Aleppo. A video shot by local activist Adnan Medlej showed the moment the bakery was hit, shortly after workers had distributed bread around the town and surrounding villages.
Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign ministry announced that a German woman who was kidnapped in Syria while she was pregnant has been set free along with the baby boy she gave birth to while in captivity. The ministry did not name the woman but German media have identified her as Janina Findeisen, 27, a freelance journalist. She was allegedly kidnapped by the Al Nusra front in October last year and gave birth in December. the militant alleely demanded millions of euros in ransom money but official German policy is not to pay ransoms.
Mother and baby were reported to be well and in the care of consular officials in Turkey.
* With agencies